2 Million Protestor Myth
Brendan Nyhan does a good job of documenting the spread of an Internet meme, the “2 million” figure that briefly circulated among conservative blogs about the size of Saturday’s Tea Party protest. What’s amusing, though, is that he himself [bases his post on a Media Matters analysis that] falls for the “the DC Fire Department gave the official total of 60-75,000” meme. In reality, neither the DC Fire Department nor any other agency offers estimates, official or otherwise anymore. They haven’t for years.
As best I can figure, the “60-75,000” figure is a wild ass guess offered by one guy:
Pete Piringer, public affairs officer for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Department, said the local government no longer provides official crowd estimates because they can become politicized. But the day of the rally, Piringer unofficially told one reporter that he thought between 60,000 and 75,000 people had shown up.
I wasn’t in attendance and have no training whatsoever in estimating crowd sizes. My strong guess is that the actual figure is closer to 75,000 than to 2 million. But the bottom line is those who sympathize with a cause have every incentive to glom on to wild overestimates and those in opposition will glom on to the lowest estimate they can. And we’ll never know the actual number.
UPDATE: Commenter Crust points out that Brendan says no such thing. He’s right, even though I swore I read it in the post. It turns out that it’s Eric Boehler‘s post — which is linked in Brendan’s and an excerpt of which forms the core of the post — that has the assertion I was attributing to Brendan:
According to estimates provided by the Washington, D.C., fire department, Malkin and friends were only off by 1,930,000 people. In other words, Malkin, citing fictitious press accounts, led the charge to falsely inflate the size of the crowd by 30 times. Malkin and company, desperate to dress up the tea party event as a mass movement, saw a relatively modest crowd of 70,000 GOP protesters and imagined it was 2 million strong
I had read Boehler’s post yesterday, never got around to writing about it, and conflated the two this morning. My apologies for the confusion.