For context, Sean Spicer gave a very short press conference on the 21st. I it he lambasted the media for it's reporting, specifically on two points. The first, a reporter claiming that the statue of Martin Luther King had been removed, and later retracting it, and the second related to attendance numbers.
The first was used as an example of how the media is ready to jump to conclusions, and not even seek out the truth, before posting something.
The second is due to a pair of published photos, one taken at the height of Obamas inauguration, and the second, from eyewitness reports and also, from shots taken of the inauguration itself, taken a bit early, showing very sparse attendance. This is where Spicer verges into spin doctor territory - and bullshit or something approaching sets my teeth on edge - yet at no point does he tell a lie that I can parse, as long as you parse carefully.
No, even with "we used lawn coverings", the physical crowd is not what it was at Obama's. Though listing out the available crowd space at each zone is useful in getting an estimate.
That said, the photo published, IIRC, by the NYT, was sparser than the crowd shown in photos from the inauguration itself, and various witnesses in the area have remarked that they know the space was more populated during the inauguration. The NYT used a bullshit photo to make the point that attendance was lower because Trump was unpopular. While physical attendance was lower, it wasn't LOW, and certainly not as low as they implied by falsely implying an apples-to-apples comparison of the photos. It's also worth keeping in mind that DC is not precisely a haven for Trump supporters - so people attending would have, on average, been traveling further if they bothered.
Which brings us to online attendance, which Spicer specifically included. And this is where the press bashing Kellyanne Conway are tripping over themselves.
Without taking reporters' questions, Spicer called Trump's inaugural crowds "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period." Photographs, however, show the crowd to be considerably smaller than former President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009.
They didn't give the full quote. If Spicer had said exactly that, and only that, it likely would have been untrue. USA Today was more honest with the quoting, but still pressing the "Alternative Facts" line without giving it the context as not "alternative to the truth", but "alternative to the media narrative".
While aerial photos showed that Trump drew a smaller crowd to his inaugural address than President Obama did, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Saturday: "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe."
Note again, the use of bullshit. They conflate the physical crowd with Spicer's statement. Or the timing of the presented photos with reality.
TechCrunch on the online attendance:
However, when comparing the inauguration with other more recent events, it still came out on top. For example, the 2016 Euro soccer tournament final peaked at 7.3 Tbps and 3.3 million concurrent viewers. The Rio women’s team gymnastics final hit 4.5 Tbps and 1.5 million concurrent viewers.
At its peak, 4.6 million concurrent viewers watched the inauguration.
“The presidential inauguration is the latest in a series of record-breaking live, online video streaming events that we have supported over the last year,” said Bill Wheaton, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Media at Akamai, in a statement. “More people than ever are watching video online, and it’s being done across more devices at increasingly higher levels of quality.”
The statement made about CIA attendance goes against the "unpopular" narrative.
It's worth noting that in the two articles I linked, neither mention the MLK bust tweet. Maybe because it doesn't fit their narrative?
An update: FWIW - to the extent that crowds were smaller, how much of that was the supposed "lack of popularity", and how much of it was lack of willingness to travel when they could watch it online or on TV? How much of it was a lack of willingness to travel given that any Trump supporter with two brain cells to rub together knows there will be protests, and is less likely to want to go somewhere where trouble is brewing, especially when they can't go armed (because DC is a bastion of freedom and second amendment... crap, can't say that with a straight face...)? Finally, how many people were delayed by the protests that deliberately acted to cut off and restrict access to the inauguration?
The protests that they covered very passively, as if they were just people marching around and a couple storefronts and cars damaged?