Citing no evidence, Hannity estimates that 20,000 attended Fox-promoted GOP health care protest

Citing no evidence, Sean Hannity twice stated that 20,000 people gathered to protest health care reform at a GOP rally on Capitol Hill -- a claim he later walked back drastically -- while MSNBC reported that Capitol police estimated the crowd at only 4,000; prior to the rally, Hannity said crowds at the event -- which he and other Fox News figures heavily promoted -- would be “massive.” Conservative media previously inflated crowd estimates for the 9-12 March on Washington.

Hannity twice stated that the Capitol Hill crowd numbered 20,000 -- before drastically walking it back

Hannity: “20,000 people showed up today.” During the November 5 edition of ABC Radio Network's The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity stated, “We announced on Hannity Friday night on the Fox News Channel, we had Congresswoman Michele Bachmann [R-MN] on, and she mentioned that there was going to be on Thursday, she was going to put together in less than a week a little town hall on -- what do you want to call it -- march on our nation's Capitol. And anyway, 20,000 people showed up today.”

Hannity: "[W]hat, 20,000 people showed up today." Hannity subsequently stated, “That was Jon Voight, the actor, who on his own heard -- I guess was watching Hannity last Friday -- and heard Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announce that she was going to have this rally today in preparation for what we expect to be a vote on a rare Saturday edition of Congress, and, what, 20,000 people showed up today.”

Hannity: “I heard there was, like, 5,000 people plus there.” Toward the end of his radio show, Hannity backtracked from his earlier estimates, responding to a caller's statement that “there was more than 1,000 people here,” by stating, “I heard there was, like, 5,000 people plus there.”

Citing U.S. Capitol Police, MSNBC's First Read reported much lower crowd estimates “Three Capitol Hill police officers all guessed that the crowd numbered at about 4,000.” In a November 5 First Read blog post, reported, “The crowd, per [NBC'S Luke] Russert, is so far about 3,000 to 3,500, according to Capitol Police estimates.” In a subsequent update, MSNBC reported, “Three Capitol Hill police officers all guessed that the crowd numbered at about 4,000.”

Prior to the Fox News-promoted rally, Hannity predicted a “massive” crowd

Hannity: “I hear there's going to be a lot of people -- thousands of people.” During the November 4 edition of his Fox News' show, Hannity stated, “All right, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announced on this program last Friday that at noon tomorrow -- by the way, anybody that wants to go, you can go to the nation's capitol -- they're going to have a press conference, and then I hear there's going to be a lot of people -- thousands of people. Our cameras are going to be there. We'll have full coverage on the program tomorrow night.”

Hannity: “I am told the crowd is going to be massive.” During the November 4 edition his radio show, Hannity responded to a caller who said, “There's nine of us traveling in an RV with three buses behind us heading out of Georgia to go see Michele Bachmann tomorrow at noon,” by stating, “I can tell you, I am told the crowd is going to be massive.”

Fox News and its personalities, including Hannity, aggressively promoted protest. In the days leading up to the November 5 protest, and following its pattern of advocacy of right-wing events, Fox News and its personalities' repeatedly promoted the anti-health care reform protest spearheaded by Bachmann. Fox News previously promoted numerous other rallies such as the April 15 tea party protests, health care town hall protests, and the 9-12 march on Washington.

Conservative media previously inflated crowd estimates for the 9-12 March on Washington

Media conservatives ran wild with 9-12 protest crowd estimates. Although a D.C. Fire Department official estimated 9-12 March crowds at 60,000 to 75,000 people, media conservatives including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin and Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Gretchen Carlson cited participant numbers in the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions. D.C. Fire Department official said “he thought between 60,000 and 75,000” participated. 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.

Kate Conway is an intern for Media Matters for America