Disclaimer – This post is intended to focus on January’s overblown reaction to the term “alternative facts, not the issues behind the use of the phrase by Conway.
On January 22, 2017, during a Meet the Press interview, U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” when she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s statement about the attendance at Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Kellyanne Conway: Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What … you’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving… Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point remains …
Chuck Todd: Wait a minute. Alternative facts?
Kellyanne Conway: … that there’s … Chuck Todd: Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered – the one thing he got right …
Kellyanne Conway: … hey, Chuck, why … Hey, Chuck … Chuck Todd: … was Zeke Miller. Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.1
While Conway’s use of the phrase “alternative facts” was widely derided on social media, it may not have been such a blunder as it seemed at the time. “Alternative facts,” it seems, is a term used in law.
Conway is an attorney licensed to practice law in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, served as a judicial clerk for Judge Richard A. Levie of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and was an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law Center for four years. “Alternate facts” may simply have been a term used from her legal background.
Alternative facts is a term in law to describe inconsistent sets of facts put forth by the same party in a court given that there is plausible evidence to support both alternatives.The term is also used to describe competing facts for the two sides of the case.3
4.4.5 Alternative facts
It used to be provided expressly in the rules that a party could raise alternative and inconsistent sets of facts or alternative and inconsistent defences. As a matter of principle it must still be possible to do so. A party may always say that one or other of two versions of the facts is true, but he does not at present know which… It should be made clear, however, that this does not mean that a party can state alternative facts that are within his knowledge, so that one or other must be a lie. A claimant can quite properly state: The defendant hit me deliberately; if he didn’t he did so carelessly.’ But a defendant cannot say: ‘I wasn’t the driver of the car, I was the passenger; but if I was the driver I hadn’t been drinking.’4
- “Alternative facts” used by Kellyanne Conway – Wikipedia
- Kellyanne Conway – Huffington Post
- Alternative facts (law) – Wikipedia
- Drafting, page 26, The City Law College, Oxford Press, August 11, 2016 (a manual containing practical advice on the skill of drafting in a number of legal settings, including contract, tort, and criminal proceedings.)