Stop me if you've heard this one before: The media reported that President Trump drew a smaller crowd than his predecessor, and Trump's team flipped out.
And by “Trump's team,” I mean the New England Patriots, whose owner, Robert Kraft, is a longtime Trump friend.
Inflicting a serious case of deja vu on the Twitterverse, the Patriots protested after the New York Times posted photos that compared the team's turnout at the White House on Wednesday to its attendance in 2015, the last time the Pats visited to celebrate a Super Bowl victory — when President Barack Obama was in office.
Never one to miss an opportunity to complain about the “failing” New York Times, Trump piled on, too.
— NYT Sports (@NYTSports) April 19, 2017
These photos lack context. Facts: In 2015, over 40 football staff were on the stairs. In 2017, they were seated on the South Lawn. https://t.co/iIYtV0hR6Y
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) April 20, 2017
Failing @nytimes, which has been calling me wrong for two years, just got caught in a big lie concerning New England Patriots visit to W.H.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2017
“A big lie” is a bit of a stretch, but Trump and the Patriots did have a point. Seating staffers on the lawn, instead of posing them on the stairs, made the turnout discrepancy appear larger than it was. However, this year's player delegation was considerably smaller than that of two years ago: 34, down from 50.
Athletes on championship-winning teams skip White House visits for any number of reasons — Tom Brady, a Trump supporter, attributed his absence Wednesday to “personal family matters,” for example — but five Patriots players said they were boycotting Trump.
“I wouldn’t spend time away from my family to shake the hand of a guy I wouldn’t want to meet with or talk to,” Branch said. “I can’t see myself going and then hanging out with my kids and pretending everything was all right.”
In any case, the Patriots' defensiveness about their attendance recalled the White House's angry response to reports that Trump's Inauguration Day crowd was smaller than Obama's in 2009.
“At a time when our nation and the world was watching the peaceful transition of power and, as the president said, the transition and the balance of power from Washington to the citizens of the United States, some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on the day after Trump's inauguration. “Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”
Spicer went on to cite false attendance figures. The fact is that Trump's crowd was smaller than Obama's.
Football fans might have noticed one other familiar element of the Patriots' tweet. The club's use of the word “context” conjured memories of its response to a 2015 report on Deflategate produced by Ted Wells, an attorney hired by the NFL. The Patriots quickly launched a website called WellsReportContext.com, which is still live.