ABC Denies It Ever Said Yesterday’s Protest Rally Had 1 Million People

A slight discrepancy has broken out between a conservative activist, the new media and a member of the old media quoted as a source for some in the new media: it’s only a matter of the whether the size of yesterday’s protest in Washington is being touted as having 940,000 more people then were actually there.

So ABC News has issued a strong statement trying to set the record straight and its likely some of the new media sites will clarify it as well. But here’s a bet: expect to hear a number way above ABC’s number on talk radio on Monday. Here’s the ABC statement:

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.”

The ABC report goes on to say that FreedomWorks’ spokesman said he doesn’t know why Kibbe announced what he did and that some conservative bloggers have picked it up.

A few things on this:

1. As someone who worked in the news media for some time, I can attest — as anyone who has been a reporter or editor will — that crowd estimates are sometimes tricky. Many times news gatherers will listen to estimates from event organizers but also talk with police and other officials because sometimes event organizers have it in their interest to inflate the numbers. Or they unconsciously fall into wishful thinking. The best bet is often to go with the police estimate.

2.The problem in this case is that an estimate was erroneously attributed to ABC News — which means a number was therefore given legitimacy. And there is an irony in that, an irony that repeats itself frequently:

It’s always ironic when some folks who denounce the old media then tout or display information from it as solid, professionally reported, reliable information when they feel it can support their side. But in this case we don’t have the typical, daily syndrome in the new media where blogs on the right and left that often denounce the media cut and paste a large part of the old media’s work to use in their commentary or to bolster their opinion points.This is a case of flat out wrong information.

3. It’s likely that at least some talk radio hosts will either ignore the denial and will say that “some estimates” said it was 1 million. Or some will pluck a figure out of the air that really was not issued by any source that media types would go to for a crowd estimate. It’ll be an estimate reached in a radio studio, or by host who was at the rally. Kind of like throwing a dart at a dartboard.

Bottom line: anyone who has worked in the news media will attest to how judging crowd size is difficult. But in this case erroneous info was put out that was quickly put out…and cloned on the web, not by writers who KNEW it was wrong, but by writers who trusted a news source who got it wrong.

FOOTNOTE: I was traveling some of yesterday and I heard ABC News reports and CBS and talk about “tens of thousands.” This was on regular broadcast and while scanning satellite radio which carried CNN and other sources. Although I clearly didn’t hear or see every newscast, it was “tens of thousands” not a million and not “hundreds of thousands” on all of the ones I heard.

Be SURE TO GO HERE and check out memeorandum. You’ll see the posts about the million people — even the Daily Mail in Great Britain saying there were two million:

Up to two million people marched to the U.S. Capitol today, carrying signs with slogans such as “Obamacare makes me sick” as they protested the president’s health care plan and what they say is out-of-control spending.

The line of protesters spread across Pennsylvania Avenue for blocks, all the way to the capitol, according to the Washington Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

People were chanting “enough, enough” and “We the People.” Others yelled “You lie, you lie!” and “Pelosi has to go,” referring to California congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

That story gives no actual attribution on the figure used.

But here are some other media reports:
The Wall Street Journal:

Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on Capitol Hill Saturday, protesting the expansion of government spending and illustrating the network of conservative activists that has emerged in opposition to President Barack Obama’s policies.

…A spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services estimated the crowd at “in excess of 75,000″ people. Local and federal law enforcement authorities don’t provide crowd estimates.

--AFP:

Tens of thousands of people marched from the shadow of the White House to the footsteps of the US Capitol today to protest against President Barack Obama and his “big government” policies.

Great Britain’s Sky News (Murdoch owned):

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in a protest against Barack Obama’s plans to reform healthcare in the US.

The AP:

Tens of thousands of protesters fed up with government spending marched to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, showing their disdain for the president’s health care plan with slogans such as “Obamacare makes me sick” and “I’m not your ATM.”

BBC:

Tens of thousands of people have marched from the White House to Capitol Hill in Washington to protest against Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.

CBC:

U.S. President Barack Obama continued to promote his national health-care plan on Saturday, promising to “get this right,” while tens of thousands of marchers denounced the proposal outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington.

There are many more. But if you do a web search you will find that reports mirror what was said on land and broadcast radio yesterday: the rally attracted “tens of thousands.” Other figures are either erroneous or inflated for political reasons.


UPDATE:
Nate Silver has a MUST READ on this issue (which is both a journalistic and a political one). Rather than quote it, read it in full.

He notes that Michelle Malkin quickly corrected her post. Before she blogged Malkin had worked as a columnist on newspapers — and my contention is that a story such as this works on two levels for those who have media background. She writes:

Thanks to ABC News for clearing this up.

The Left, of course, has seized on the error to discredit the undeniably massive turnout today.

If only they were as vigilant about policing other figures — e.g., the “47 million uninsured” statistic…

Read her post in full.

UPDATE II: Jules Crittenden has an extensive roundup that contains a lot of reaction from some conservative sites. He also offers his own commentary on this and while some TMV readers might not agree with him, he makes some interesting points about how politics and assumptions may influence perceptions, unconsciously or not.

NOTE TO READERS: I just noticed that Word Press published an earlier version of this before it had been edited and spell checked. This problem has arisen more than once. We regret the error and will try to be more vigilant.

18 Comments

  1. Make sure you contact the AP and other news organizations and let them know you can estimate a crowd better than the police or any agency by looking at a photo. You could make a fortune since no one has ever had that talent. Congratulations! CORRECTION: I'm sure Glenn and Rush and Sean have that talent, too. I'm sure we'll see and hear it on display on Monday. Also, be sure to contact Rupert Murdoch since his Wall Street Journal and his Sky News both got it wrong.

  2. Most of those media reports are just the same AP report republished.

    I've seen the pictures and it looks like hundreds of thousands at the very least. Even Kathy posted as much on another thread.

  3. I can read what the Park Service said about the mall and look at the photos and videos

    Estimating the size of a crowd requires aerial photographs, dimensions of the gathering space, and an estimate of the crowd's density.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-01

    If the National Mall is densely packed from Third Street to the Washington Monument, and if the area from the monument to the Lincoln Memorial has an average density, the space could contain 1.5 million people, Barna said. Average density is one person per 5 square feet. A tightly packed crowd has a density of one person per 2.5 square feet, an area slightly larger than this newspaper.

    I'd say at least in the hudreds of thousands.

  4. Ah! This reminds me of the haggling over the Million Man March numbers. As a person that went to the Million Man March and took many pictures of the crowd (from high places), I can agree with Leonidas, easily hundreds of thousands.

    What does this mean ultimately? I don't know. Enough folks found it important enough to show up and voice their displeasure (some crazily by some of the weird signs that were present). Nevertheless, it is a win in conservatives book simply because of the crowd size. And you can bet your arse that pictures of that march will end up in much of the 2010 mid-term campaigning material.

  5. He's an expert at everything. Just like Dr. Frist (remember him?), the heart and lung surgeon ex-Senator who made a long distance diagnosis of Terri Schiavo saying that all the neurologist doctors on the scene were wrong.

    Never let facts get in the way of “experts” like these two.

  6. Leonidas-Really? I have gotten pretty used to you spouting any republican talking point for any debate had here but I thought you would at least avoid the obvious losers. Sorry, “tens of thousand” is about right. Compare the photos(not the Malkin photo shopped ones) versus say inauguration day. If thats hundreds of thousands of people how many million showed up then? Sure maybe it is hundreds of thousands but if thats the case we need to go back and inflate every protest number and march number in history to accommodate. I would assume the million man march clocked in at what 20 million marchers?
    Dont get me wrong I would have liked it to have been larger and more focused on fiscal conservatism because I prefer that meme running the repub party then the fundie one but that is not what showed up. Instead a descent sized rally and I would say a huge one by conservative standards(this is not a dig this is really not conservatives strength historically). Instead of being about fiscal restraint though it was a giant anti-Obama rally which actually just looks like more tantruming so I am unsure if freedom works idea to inflame grassroots about fiscal issues to turn the repub party their way will work since anyone but Obama seems to be able to win most of those votes. Either way a few hundred thousand is pure fantasy.

  7. It doesn't matter how many showed up at this latest tea party the people who are unhappy with Obama are a minority of the population and they are very vocal about it. The media (all of it) covers the people who are unhappy to such an extent that it inflates the amount os disaffection in this country.

    These protesters have every right to be unhappy if they want to be, though I would hope that unhappiness has a basis in fact. However much of that unhappiness has no basis in fact whatsoever. It's the conservative leaders who are painting Obama as a nazi, a granny-killer and who have delegitimized his presidency who are threatening this country with their oft-repeated lies.

    Fortunately most Americans are smart enough to see these conservative leaders for what they are, and for what they are trying to do to this country. Unfortunately the loudmouths who are protesting get the most press, giving their misbegotten cause a legitimacy it does not deserve. If these protesters were truly interested in reigning in government spending, protecting constitutional rights, lying leaders, etc., they had many more opportunities to protest when their own man, W, was in office. Their lack of action then makes their protest now ring hollow. These protesters have no principles.

  8. Beck, Limbaugh & Armey had been planning this thing for how many months now, & yes it looks to me like tens of thousands, not hundreds of, & Pres Obama went to Minneapolis with a week's notice & 15 thousand showed up. That tells you who really has the clout. Sit down & shut up,

  9. Early last week, instead of talking about the importance of Obama speaking to the children of this nation and telling them to work hard, the entire media debate was about whether or not he should speak to them at all.

    Late last week, instead of talking about the merits of Obama's Health Care speech, the entire media debate was about Joe “The Liar” Wilson's foot-in-mouth outburst.

    This weekend, instead of talking about what the Teabagger Protest was all about, the entire media debate is about the size of the little get-together.

    Seems to me we have a serious problem of focusing on the important issues, and niggling over the smaller details. Surprised? Of course not – entirely predictable. And disheartening…again.

  10. So. Some on the delusional right want to believe there were hundreds of thousands (or even millions, LOL) of people at the Teabagger shindig. Despite all facts to the contrary, including incontrovertible photo evidence that it was more like in the the tens of thousands, they stick to their fantasy.

    You know what? I really doesn't matter. Seriously – it doesn't matter. Let them believe what they want to believe – if there is anything we have learned over the past many months, it is that those on the delusional right are going to stick to their fantasyland, facts be damned. Death panels? Must be true! Obama not born in America? It's the truth! A million people at a rally? Absolutely!

    Let them have their fantasy. If there is one very important thing I learned out of yesterday's little get together, it is that the Teabagger movement is a whole lot smaller that I had feared, and therefore not worth worrying about. Back in April, various rallies drew 300-400K around the country, and that figure was big enough to give me pause. But if only tens of thousands show up to something that has been hyped for *months*, then that means that it's not some major movement we have to be concerned about. It's just a bunch of old white cranks yelling “Get Off My Lawn!”

    Kinda reminds me of the whole “Hillary is 44″ screechfest last year – they had a huge net presence, tons of media coverage, all over the message boards. But it turned out it was just a small handful of extremely loud activists inflating their numbers and importance through volume.

  11. Sometimes I wonder if Leo works in the health insurance industry. This seems to be the only topic where he goes completely off the deep end.

  12. Let me put your wondering to rest, No I don't. Just because I oppose the running of 1/6th of the economy by a group who has not proven they are capable of running anything on budget does not make me an insurance lobby shill.

    Whe the federal government can run medicare, medicaid, the post office, etc., without bankrupting them get back to me. They would have a much stronger case if they could manage to balance the budget over a multitear period like any business in the private sector would have to in order to stay in business.

    What stockholder would endure what the taxpayer has to?

  13. Leonidas, give me your mailing address, I'll put a 30 cent stamp on a postcard & you'll have it by the end of next week, if not sooner. Put your right wing in your left ear.

  14. I think the person who posts as “Leonidas” has proven time and again that s/he wants this Web Site to become a right wing blog.

    If “Leonidas” had anything interesting to offer to the conversation, that would be one thing; what s/he has are Right Wing Views.

    Conformist views are not interesting and do not lead to a good discussion or a search for the truth. While the “Leonidas” posters of this world crave the conformity of a ditto and a mega-ditto, The Moderate Voice is a thinking person's blog. “Leonidas” may be proud of herself, but she changes no minds.

  15. Leonidas, “Whe[n] the federal government can run medicare, medicaid, the post office, etc., without bankrupting them get back to me. They would have a much stronger case if they could manage to balance the budget over a multitear period like any business in the private sector would have to in order to stay in business.”

    Sure…. that would be the government that Bush destroyed. Need I remind you that among many other examples of cronyism and loyalty Bush actually appointed someone with no management experience to run FEMA (Michael Brown)?

  16. The eagerness to believe lies is the problem.

  17. I have done my own study base on a devised stationary methodology and calculation which you can find here:

    http://deathbymedia.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/91

    It's backed by visual evidence (pictures and clips) all available in the same entry, plus determining the boundaries of the rally and calculation of the final tally derived from the density of the crowd at each given block. My calculus puts the figures around 130k up to 160k.

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