The New England Patriots are taking issue with a New York Times photo comparison that suggested a significantly smaller turnout for their Super Bowl celebration at the White House with President Donald Trump than the one two years ago with then-President Barack Obama.
The Times on Wednesday used an Associated Press photo of the Patriots standing behind Obama on the south side of the White House in 2015. Stairs on either side of the main group were filled with people. The tweet compared it with a Times photo taken Wednesday showing both staircases empty.
— NYT Sports (@NYTSports) April 19, 2017
The Patriots responded on Twitter that the photos lack context, saying football staff sat on the South Lawn instead of standing on the stairs this year. Team spokesman Stacey James told The Boston Globe the White House chose to have the staff sit.
The Times tweeted an update saying the Pats told them fewer players attended this year but that the total delegation was about the same. The photo comparison was also used in a story on the Times' website before being removed with a correction.
In all, 34 players were present for the Wednesday afternoon ceremony on the South Lawn, a total similar to the team's past visits in 2004 and 2005 but noticeably fewer than in 2002 and 2015. Tom Brady was among the players not in attendance, with the quarterback saying he didn't attend for "personal family matters."
James said it was "wrong" to compare the player attendance from the past two Super Bowl victories.
"When you win two [Super Bowls] in three years, fewer people go than one in 10 years," James told The Globe. "It's just the way it goes. It's a long day. It's a cool thing you do once -- maybe you do it twice -- but it's just not necessarily something you choose to do every time. We had people today who were attending funerals, who were sick. It wasn't political. It's just life."
Trump, who has had an acrimonious relationship with The Times over his coverage during the presidential campaign and in the first year of his presidency, took the opportunity to blast the newspaper for a "big lie."
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
ESPN's Mike Reiss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.