Conservative media have repeatedly provided conflicting crowd estimates for the 9/12 March on Washington, citing tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, millions of participants, while one unofficial D.C. fire department estimate placed the number between 60,000 and 75,000 participants. On his radio show, Glenn Beck said a “really conservative” estimate is 500,000 based on photos, and on Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy and Gretchen Carlson alternately claimed that “tens of thousands” attended and that “hundreds of thousands” attended.
PolitiFact.com: D.C. fire department official said “he thought between 60,000 and 75,000” participated
Official: The crowd “only filled the Capitol grounds, maybe up to Third Street.” PolitiFact.com investigated whether conservative bloggers were falsely attributing a picture of a large crowd on the National Mall to the 9/12 events and concluded that they were. From PolitiFact:
We spoke with Pete Piringer, public affairs officer for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Department, who said that the local government no longer provides official crowd estimates because they can become politicized. That said, on the morning of Sept. 12, Piringer unofficially told one reporter that he thought between 60,000 and 75,000 people had shown up.
“It was in no way an official estimate,” he said.
We asked Piringer whether there were enough protesters to fill the National Mall, as depicted in the photograph.
“It was an impressive crowd,” he said. But after marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol the crowd “only filled the Capitol grounds, maybe up to Third Street,” he said.
Beck claims “largest march on Washington ever,” says “really conservative” estimate is “500,000”
Beck: A “really conservative” estimate is 500,000. On his September 14 radio program, Beck said:
BECK: You know, no newspaper is willing to give numbers, I think, more than 50 or 60 thousand -- unless you go overseas, and then you read the papers in the U.K., and they're saying between 1 and 2 million people marched on Washington. Let's just say it was 500,000. I mean, I would have thought it would have been a success at, you know, 200,000.
If you go to the website at GlennBeck.com and you look at the Picture of the Day -- this is down at the bottom right-hand corner -- and you click on that, there's a -- we have a collection of all the pictures and the videos of the crowds, and they are absolutely stunning.
BECK: But if you look at the pictures that we do have -- and we're gonna do this tonight -- and you compare them to the inauguration, there's not a lot of difference.
BECK: I'm willing to be really conservative and say 500,000 people. Just say 500,000. I mean, look at the picture. [Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program, 9/14/09]
Beck cites “overseas” reporting of Telegraph, Daily Mail on size. From the September 14 broadcast of his radio program:
BECK: The media is pounding nail after nail after nail into their own coffin right now. The American people are waking up. It doesn't matter -- even if The Washington Post wouldn't have covered it, everybody in Washington that needs to know the people are awake -- they know. It doesn't matter if it was covered at all. The people that needed to hear that message, believe me, heard the message. If you go overseas, you start to look at some real numbers. Overseas, the London Telegraph is now saying that the number is over a million. They quote --
CALLER: Oh my gosh.
BECK: They quote a source from the Park Service, the National Park Service, saying that it is the largest march on Washington ever. And they also quote somebody in the White House saying that the White House was shocked at the number. Now, you're not going to get that in the mainstream press here in America, but that's what the Daily Mail is reporting today. [The Glenn Beck Program, 9/14/09]
Neither the Telegraph nor the Daily Mail quoted “a source from the ... National Park Service, saying that it is the largest march on Washington ever.” In fact, the Daily Mail article said that the size of the crowd was “by far the biggest protest since the president took office in January,” but did not quote a park service official making that claim or stating that it was the “largest march on Washington ever.” Nor did the article quote a White House official saying the White House was “shocked at the number,” as Beck claimed.
From the September 14 Daily Mail article:
As many as one million people flooded into Washington for a massive rally organised by conservatives claiming that President Obama is driving America towards socialism.
The size of the crowd - by far the biggest protest since the president took office in January - shocked the White House.
Demonstrators massed outside Capitol Hill after marching down Pennsylvania Avenue waving placards and chanting 'Enough, enough'.
Tens of thousands of people converged on Capitol Hill on Saturday to protest against government spending
The focus of much of the anger was the president's so-called 'Obamacare' plan to overhaul the U.S. health system.
Demonstrators waved U.S. flags and held signs reading 'Go Green Recycle Congress' and 'I'm Not Your ATM'.'
The protest on Saturday came as Mr Obama took his campaign for health reforms on the road, making his argument to a rally of 15,000 supporters in Minneapolis.
From a September 13 Telegraph article:
Tens of thousands of conservative 'tea party' protesters have staged the biggest demonstration of Barack Obama's presidency, thronging Capitol Hill to denounce runaway government spending.
The protest on Saturday demonstrated the potency of grassroots opposition to Mr Obama despite a landmark speech to Congress last week that attempted to quell opposition to his overhaul of the health-care system.
Saturday's march marked the end of a summer in which angry scenes at “town hall” meetings caught the White House off guard and damaged the campaign for Mr Obama's health-care proposals.
Organisers included FreedomWorks, led by Dick Armey, a former Republican leader on Capitol Hill who helped bring down President Bill Clinton's health-care bill in 1994. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, also a conservative Republican, demanded a return to “constitutional government” and insisted that it was “time that the president started listening to us”.
There was no official crowd count. Organisers, who had expected between 25,000 and 50,000, put the total at 75,000 but many estimated that it was much higher.
The demonstration dwarfed a rally held by Mr Obama in Minneapolis, Minnesota at which he promised to drive through reform with or without Republican support. “I will not accept the status quo,” he declared.
Limbaugh joins Beck in citing British press, refers to “2 million people crowd”
Limbaugh also cites British press, claims more people at protests than at “Obama's immaculation.” From the September 14 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: What an event that was on Saturday. In fact, folks, there were more people at that event on Saturday -- according to the British press -- than there were people who showed up at Obama's immaculation back in January.
Limbaugh refers to “2 million people crowd” at protests. From the September 14 Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: You don't need a leader -- Clarice Feldman's exactly right. You don't need a charismatic leader to get you out of the house and to spend money to drive or fly to Washington to get a hotel for Friday and Saturday night and show up as part of a 2 million people crowd on Saturday, and then leave the place as clean as you found it, like Dan's Bake Sale. Some of the pictures after the event -- there were no messes, just like Dan's Bake Sale.
Fox & Friends' Doocy and Carlson cite conflicting numbers and attack media
Carlson claims “tens of thousands gathered in Washington,” while Doocy claims “hundreds of thousands of people” marched in Washington. From the September 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
CARLSON: Thousands of Americans concerned about big government and health care reform gather in Washington, D.C., but where was the media? Look at all those people. And why is the left downplaying their concerns again?
CARLSON: Tens of thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., this weekend to take a stand against government spending and health care reform. Did the mainstream media largely -- largely, that is -- ignore the march? Look at all those people there. We're back with our panel. And what I want to know is, Angela, you were there personally.
ANGELA McGLOWAN (Fox News contributor): Yes. I was there. I spoke at Freedom Plaza, and then I spoke before the Capitol. And I tell you -- I spoke at 9:30, and then I spoke again at 10:50. I know there was about 400,000 people then, and then I had to leave. It was amazing. And Gretchen, you had people, black, white, Hispanic, you had reverends, you had doctors, people from all socioeconomic backgrounds together. And that's what our constitution stands for. Our forefathers want us to state our grievances to our elected officials, and they felt tired because they felt like they were being ignored. But look at that -- isn't that amazing?
CARLSON: So it was an amazing crowd. Michelle, here is my question to you: a couple months ago when town hall meetings started happening and tea parties started happening. Let's face it, the Obama administration and people on the left have basically said this was not mainstream America. This was a fringe element. Do you think now that there has to be some sort of acknowledgment, or has there been that this really is a concerted effort by millions of people?
DOOCY: Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people marching in Washington to take a stand against government health care reform and the high cost of government. So why did the media largely ignore them again?
DOOCY: Speaking of tea parties. On the day after 9-11, 9-12 -- on Saturday -- tens of thousands, and you know, there's so much debate how many people actually showed up down in Washington, D.C. The New York Times did say that authorities were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the number of people showed up. But, nonetheless, David Axelrod was on one of the chat shows -- I mean, look at that picture right there. That is extraordinary. That's not Photoshopped or anything else. There are a lot of people streaming from the White House to Capitol Hill.
David Axelrod said yesterday on one of the chat shows that those people at those tea parties do not represent mainstream views. Listen to this.
AXELROD [video clip]: I don't think it's indicative of the nation's mood. In fact, I don't believe that some of the angriest, most strident voices we saw during the summer were representative of the thousands of town hall meetings that went on around the country.  They don't represent a mainstream view of this health care plan.  My message to them is they're wrong.
CARLSON: Maybe not the mainstream media view, because the mainstream media has discounted these types of tea parties.
Malkin repeated false estimate of 2 million that protest organizers misattributed to ABC News
Malkin: “ABC News reporting crowd at 2 million.” On her website, Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin wrote of the protest: “ABC News reporting crowd at 2 million,” adding: “Teeny, tiny fringe, huh?” However, ABC News later asserted that it was misquoted on the crowd size and that it had “reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, D.C., fire department”:
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 Saturday 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.
In his blog, Kibbe apologized Sunday for the mistaken attribution of the crowd-size estimated to ABC News.
“With a dead IPhone, I had been shown tweets from a number of different folks behind the stage citing the ABC estimate,” he wrote. “They didn't say it. I regret misrepresenting the network, as their coverage that day was fair and honest.” [ABCNews.com, 9/13/09]
Nate Silver: 2 million number “a real whopper.” On his blog FiveThirtyEight.com, statistician Nate Silver wrote: "[Y]esterday, someone told a real whopper. ABC News, citing the DC fire department, reported that between 60,000 and 70,000 people had attended the tea party rally at the Capitol. By the time this figure reached Michelle Malkin, however, it had been blown up to 2,000,000. There is a big difference, obviously, between 70,000 and 2,000,000. That's not a twofold or threefold exaggeration -- it's roughly a thirtyfold exaggeration" [emphasis in original].