The New York Times “just got caught in a big lie,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday morning, attacking perhaps his favorite media target over its coverage of the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots’ visit to the White House on Wednesday.
On its Twitter account, the Times’s sports section posted a pair of photos Wednesday comparing the Patriots’ most recent visit with its previous one in 2015, when former President Barack Obama was in office. Both events were held on the White House’s south lawn, but in the Obama-era photo, members of the Patriots’ organization fill staircases on either side of the presidential podium.
In the photo taken Wednesday, both staircases are empty and the podium appears much less crowded. But according to the Patriots, the discrepancy in the photos is not the result of diminished interest in visiting the Trump White House but instead on a decision to seat staff members on the lawn instead of having them stand on stage.
“These photos lack context,” the team wrote on its Twitter account, linking to the original post from the Times sports section account. “Facts: In 2015, over 40 football staff were on the stairs. In 2017, they were seated on the South Lawn.”
Thursday morning, Trump eagerly took advantage of the opportunity to attack the Times, a newspaper that he has regularly accused of treating him unfairly.
“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.,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The Times later clarified with the Patriots that while the overall number of players in attendance had dropped – nearly 50 in 2015 compared to 34 on Wednesday – the overall team delegation was roughly the same size.
The dip in attendance was likely the result of the team’s long run of success, the spokesman suggested. Wednesday’s turnout was roughly similar, the team spokesman noted, to the Patriots’ 2004 and 2005 visits, when some veteran players did not feel the need to attend the White House ceremony after visiting in 2002.
Ahead of the team’s Wednesday visit, a handful of Patriots, including running back Tom Brady, tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive end Chris Long announced that they would not attend the White House ceremony. Star quarterback Tom Brady, who kept a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker early in Trump’s candidacy, also pulled out at the last minute.
In addition to Brady, both Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick are supporters of Trump’s. Kraft donated $1 million for the president’s inauguration and praised him in remarks at the White House event on Wednesday. Trump, who used his remarks at the ceremony to make a veiled comparison between his campaign and the Patriots’ improbable comeback Super Bowl win, also thanked Belichick for a letter he wrote expressing support for the then-GOP candidate.
“Whether you’re trying to win a Super Bowl or rebuild our country, as coach Belichick would say, ‘There are no days off,’” Trump said, borrowing the coach’s famous line.