(NOTICE: As referenced in the comments thread on this post, the photo above is bogus, for which I apologize. It’s from an event of years ago. The photo below is legitimate)
The subject reflected in the headline above, which arose this morning in a thread on another post here, deserves stand-alone treatment.
One of our Applesauce regulars introduced the issue with this comment:
Saturday’s “Tea Party” rally in Washington, D.C. far exceeded almost all expectations. Local police agencies estimated around 1.2 million people attended the rally, but several news outlets, including ABC and Fox News, said the crowd was nearly double that, with an estimated 2 million people in attendance.
To which I replied as follows:
Regarding the size of the crowd, local police offered no estimate, nor did ABC say the crowd was in the millions.
ABC actually had this to say:
“Conservative activists, who organized a march on the U.S. Capitol today in protest of the Obama administration’s health care agenda and government spending, erroneously attributed reports on the size of the crowds to ABC News.
“Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally that ABC News was reporting that 1 million to 1.5 million people were in attendance.
“At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, D.C., fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as ‘tens of thousands.’
“Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for FreedomWorks, said he did not know why Kibbe cited ABC News as a source.
“As a result of Kibbe’s erroneous attribution, several bloggers and commenters repeated the misinformation.”
Personally, I’ve noticed over the years that protest organizers of both the left and right have been wont to wildly overestimate their turnouts. I attended several protest rallies in Washington in the ’60s and ’70s, and the sponsoring organizations invariably made unrealistic claims about the size of the crowds.
My favorite story in this regard has nothing to do with political protests. It involved one of Pope John Paul II’s tours of America, during which he celebrated outdoor masses in various big cities — including New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, as I recall. Crowd estimates were progressively larger in each succeeding city, and topped a million in Chicago’s Grant Park. But somebody used aerial photos and scientifically drawn grids to prove that the Chicago crowd actually was less than 100,000.
In the end, the only reliable crowd figures are those for events at which the number of seats filled or the number of tickets sold are fairly precise.
And now, the always-credible Nate Silver CHIMES IN with his own observations on the matter.
[I]f there had in fact been 2 million protesters in Washington yesterday, there would have been no need to lie about it — the magnitude of the protests would have been self-evident. I was in Washington for the inauguration, an event at which there really were almost 2 million people present — and let me tell you, it was a Holy Mess. Hotels, charging double or treble their usual rates, were booked weeks in advance. Major stations on the Metro system were shut down for hours at a time. The National Guard was brought in. At least 3,000 people got stuck in a tunnel. Essentially the entirely of the National Mall, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, was dotted with onlookers. Heaps of trash were left behind. The entire city was basically a warzone for a period of about 20 hours, from midnight through mid-evening.
But there are no accounts of any of those sorts of things happening yesterday. 70 thousand people, rather, is about the number that will attend the Washington Redskins’ home opener next week. That’s a lot of people. Washington — actually Landover, Maryland, where FedEx Field is located — will be inconvenienced. But it won’t be shut down. Business will go on more or less as usual.