On Saturday, a collection of citizens of the Republic, armed with handmade signs, Gadsden flags, and pent-up frustration, descended on Washington’s National Mall to protest. What they were protesting, exactly, was unclear—per the signs they held, the chants they chanted, and the interviews they gave to the myriad media members dispatched to cover the latest incarnation of April’s tax-day ‘tea parties,’ participants seemed to be angry about: taxes, health care reform efforts, politicians, the media, Van Jones, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, government spending, ‘big government,’ government generally, Barack Obama, the Joker from Batman, socialism, fascism, czarism, and the (somehow) socio-fasci-czarist presidency of Barack Obama—but, in all the tumult, two general facts about the protesters emerged: 1) They were mad, and 2) They were many.
Indeed, “the magnitude of the rally took the authorities by surprise,” The New York Times noted in its write-up of the event, “with throngs of people streaming from the White House to Capitol Hill for more than three hours.”
This is not an insignificant thing. Size matters—in political rallies, in particular, for which attendance numbers are, to a large degree, the whole point. Nobody understands this better, generally, than the organizers of those rallies. Which is possibly why Matt Kibbe—president of FreedomWorks, the organization that mobilized Saturday’s protest—declared to the crowd assembled before the Capitol that, per the estimates of ABC News, rally participants numbered between 1 and 1.5 million people. Yes, million. And possibly why protest attendee Tabitha Hale, casually rounding up Kibbe’s number by between 500,000 people and a million or so people, mentioned it—multiple times—in her Twitter feed. And why Michelle Malkin linked Hale’s inflated estimate. And why, in turn, Newsbusters and Right Pundits and Wizbang and Brutally Honest and the San Francisco Examiner, among others, linked to it. Culminating in, among others, the following utterly ridiculous headline (emphasis mine): “Up to two million march to US Capitol to protest against Obama’s spending in ‘tea-party’ demonstration.”
But, of course, true it was not. Consider, after all, that an estimated 1.8 million people—fewer people than Hale’s cavalier tea party estimate—attended Barack Obama’s inauguration. Consider, as well, dispatches from reporters in DC. (Nico Pitney: “I’d put crowd at 10-20k. Only crowded area is b/w Capitol and 3rd. First part of mall is 1/4 full.” David Schuster: “I’ve covered rallies at dc capitol for 20 years. When the crowd goes only as far as 3rd st, it is 50,000 or less.”) Consider the aerial pictures of the 9/12 protests—which depict a healthy crowd, to be sure, but nothing remotely suggestive of seven figures.
And consider that ABC News never reported that the protest had over a million participants.
Yeah. As ABC’s Yunji de Nies, who spent Saturday on the ground in DC reporting on the rally, tweeted on Saturday afternoon, “Tweeps, I’m confused. Keep hearing ppl say ‘ABC news is reporting 2 million’ - where is this coming from? have not heard anyone say that.” (Later, she elaborated: “I don’t know where those numbers are coming from, but there’s no way there were 2 million there.” And, a bit later: “for the record, park police and capitol police do NOT give crowd estimates. so far @dcfireems is the only official agency to release #s.” And, a bit later: ““have checked all of our coverage - ABC never reported 2 million. if you find it, send it to me. this is a total myth.”)
To make the matter extra official, ABCNews.com, on early Saturday evening, posted the following for-the-record, headlined “ABC News Was Misquoted on Crowd Size”:
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.