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.
It’s worth noting that the other mainstream media outlets covering the tea party protest story—from The Washington Post to The New York Times, from Politico to Fox News—ran with the D.C. fire department’s official, 60,000-to-70,000 crowd estimate. Even Glenn Beck, who fashioned himself, from his perch in New York City, the day’s master of ceremonies via his 9/12 Project, grudgingly accepted those numbers: “The official estimate is 60,000 people,” he said during his live coverage of the protest. “I’ve lived in Washington. It looks more than 60,000. But we’ll go with the official numbers today.”
But, then, per much of the blogged coverage of the protests: the numbers don’t matter much, anyway. Because the point of the whole exercise on Saturday was not, apparently, to gather a crowd in the numeric sense; the point was, apparently, to gather a crowd in the symbolic sense. “I dunno if that’s 2 million,” The Rhetorician, poster of a much-linked time-lapse video of the crowd, remarked. “But really, who the hell cares? Put any number you want on them. The video speaks for itself. And this is what it says: It’s not just a Mob. It’s a popular movement.”
It’s that who-the-hell-cares sensibility that defined the day on Saturday. Here, again, is Malkin: “As I joked after the Tax Day Tea Party: ‘When left-wing activists make crowd estimates, the algorithm is: Six figures = one million.’ Safe to say, by liberal math standards, today’s turnout rivaled the ‘Million Man March’ and the ‘Million Mom March’ for sure.”
Indeed, numbers themselves, per this rendering of reality, are relative. “However big it was,” Hot Air’s Allah wrote of the crowd, “it was bigger than expected.” As The Cypress Times’s John Winder put it, “‘Media’ estimates range from 60,000 to 500,000 to around 2 million (yes, 2,000,000). Those estimates, the language employed, and the visuals chosen for use in reporting the rally and representing the people gathered, vary greatly based solely on bias.” And here’s the Pajamas Media blogger Stephen Green: “Tens of thousands? Technically accurate, but….”
But therein lies the problem. “Technically accurate” is, in general, not something that can fairly be followed with a “but.” When it comes to something readily observable—like, say, the size of a crowd—“technical accuracy” is not a matter of opinion. It is not something that can be accepted or rejected at will.
And yet, Green again: “Charlie Martin—a computer scientist with extensive intelligence experience—emails from his secret bunker near Boulder, CO: I did a back-of-envelope based on the photos and reports. A pretty dense crowd is about 1.8 people per square meter, and the National Mall alone is about 125 hectares, 1.25 million square meters. So that would be 2.3 million people. Given the report from Steve of an actual literal count of 450K early on, I think the 2 million number is *very* plausible.”