Protest Over, But Crowd Size Debate Continues
The crowd attending Saturday’s “Tea Party” protests have dispersed, but the debate continues over how many showed up.
In its lead story on the front of Sunday’s paper, The Post was cautious and said the crowd numbered “tens of thousands.”
But other estimates have put it in the hundreds of thousands, and still others have suggested as high as 1.5 million.
To some, it may seem meaningless. But to those who participated or organized the rally, the relative size is a measure of the depth of their unhappiness with President Obama and the Democrat-controlled controlled Congress. They are upset with health-care proposals and a variety of other initiatives.
Some readers have accused The Post of intentionally low-balling the crowd size. They see it as part of a plan by the “liberal” Post to diminish their cause, despite the fact that the coverage dominated Sunday’s front-page and was displayed prominently on the Web site.
In reporting the crowd size, Post editors faced a problem because local fire and police officials, as well as those from federal agencies such as the U.S. Park Police and the National Park Service, declined to release estimates.
That left The Post to offer its own assessment. Reporters covering the protests conferred among themselves and with their editors. They also made comparisons to previous crowds, such as those attending Obama’s inauguration in January or other major gatherings on the Mall.
“It didn’t seem, to the reporters who were out there, that it was hundreds of thousands,” said James Hohmann, one of the Post reporters who covered the event. “So we went with ‘tens of thousands.’ We didn’t do that to lowball it. We did it to be safe.”
Lacking official crowd estimates, and aware of the imprecision of guessing at the size, The Post story tried to give readers a description of its magnitude. It included this paragraph: “Authorities in the District do not give official crowd estimates, but Saturday’s throng appeared to number in the many tens of thousands. A sea of people surrounded the Capitol reflecting pool, spilling across Third Street and along the Mall. The sound system did not reach far enough for people at the edges of the rally to hear the speakers onstage.”
FreedomWorks, one of the groups sponsoring the event, puts the size much higher. Adam Brandon, a spokesman for the group that says it is dedicated to “lower taxes, less government, more freedom,” said it plans to update its Web site with an estimate of 600,000 to 800,000.
He said that estimate follows an examination of photos of the rally and comparing them to those from past protest marches in Washington.
Despite a different estimate on the size of the crowd, Brandon praised The Post’s coverage as “fair.”
At one point during Saturday’s rally, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe told the crowd that ABC News was reporting that it had swelled to between 1 million and 1.5 million. That prompted ABC News to post a statement on its Web site under a headline: “ABC News Was Misquoted on Crowd Size.” “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,” it said, adding that ABC News Radio said the crowd numbered “tens of thousands.” Kibbe subsequently apologized on his blog, saying he mistakenly attributed the crowd estimate to ABC.
Whatever the size, Brandon said today that the protests were "historic." "I don't know of any other march on Washington that was dedicated to fiscal conservatism," he said in an interview. "I don't know of one where the central organizing theme was that government has grown too big and it's going to cost too much."
Estimating the size of Washington protests is a bit of a parlor game. Debates often follow major gatherings. For many of those attending from around the country, even a modest-size crowd can seem enormous to anything they have experienced at home. But expansive crowds are often smaller than they seem. Perceptions can sometimes rest on the density of the crowd. Experts generally agree that the only way to provide an accurate estimate is to actually count heads from an aerial photo. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out in a good story today on the debate over the crowd size, airspace over the Mall is restricted.
Some Internet reports on Saturday clearly overstated the crowd. The Web site for London’s Daily Mail said “as many as one million people flooded into Washington” for the “massive” rally.
A photo was widely distributed on the Internet showing a huge crowd sprawling from the U.S. Capitol down the Mall to the Washington Monument. But as the St. Petersburg Times’ “PolitiFact" noted, the photo was “more than 10 years old” and appeared to have been taken from the 1997 Promise Keepers rally. One tip-off: the photo did not include the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened on the Mall in 2004.
Posted by: jhough1 | September 16, 2009 12:31 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: IndyInNH | September 16, 2009 1:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: craigjjs | September 16, 2009 4:52 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: GaryEMasters | September 16, 2009 5:30 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: happywwwppp | September 16, 2009 6:21 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jkarlinsky | September 16, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: chase-truth | September 16, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: roblimo | September 16, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: bigbadbri | September 16, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: waterfrontproperty | September 16, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: allamer1 | September 16, 2009 10:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Schweg | September 16, 2009 11:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jaxas | September 17, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Chip_M | September 17, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: BillEPilgrim | September 18, 2009 5:55 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: BillEPilgrim | September 18, 2009 5:59 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: waterfrontproperty | September 18, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: sjpatejak | September 18, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: edlharris | September 21, 2009 12:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: glebec | September 21, 2009 2:19 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | September 21, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.