Even allowing for an editorial “take” on an event, doesn’t it seem kind of high-school silly to run a headline like this:
The Huffington Post conclusion is based on one key comparison:
According to CBS News, 215,000 people showed up for the rally on Saturday. By comparison, CBS estimated that 87,000 — just 40% of the Sanity Rally estimation — attended Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in August.
So it all comes back to CBS News and the same company they used to estimate the crowd size on 8/28 — AirPhotosLive.com. The numbers are all pretty clear to them:
An estimated 215,000 people attended a rally organized by Comedy Central talk show hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Saturday in Washington, according to a crowd estimate commissioned by CBS News.
The company AirPhotosLive.com based the attendance at the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on aerial pictures it took over the rally, which took place on the Mall in Washington. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percent.
CBS News does acknowledge that their estimate of the 8/28 rally was controversial. At the time they posted a vigorous defense of their methodology and in their current post they re-link to it.
In order to bring more clarity to the crowd estimation process, Hotsheet asked Curt Westergard, the president of AirPhotosLive.com, to discuss his methods. Westergard’s company has done aerial imaging for the U.S. border patrol, the Department of Homeland Security, companies building skyscrapers and cell phone companies trying to decide where to build their towers, among others.
“People hire us to get a really detailed view of what’s on the ground,” he said.
The company sometimes uses these images for crowd estimates, both generating its own estimates and partnering with Professor Stephen Doig of Arizona State University, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and crowd estimate expert, to come up with figures. For President Obama’s inauguration last year, the company worked with Doig and GeoEye satellite data to generate a crowd estimate on behalf of CNN that was cited by the Associated Press and other news outlets.
To calculate attendance at the Beck rally, AirPhotosLive.com used what is called a surveillance aerostat balloon to take pictures from both above the event and closer to the ground. In the video above, which was provided by the company, you can see some of the images used to come up with a figure.
The balloon, Westergard said, gave the company the capacity to move up and down, allowing it to photograph people who were standing beneath trees in addition to taking photos from high above.
Mediate is looking at the comparisons between the two rallies. They note what Glynnis MacNicol wrote about the 8/28 assessments:
Thus far, the big question following yesterday’s event appears to be how many people attended. Answer from the ground: a lot. Interestingly CBS is estimating the crowd at 87,000. NBC quoted the National Parks service which put it at 300,000. Based solely on my perspective from the ground and the fact I was in Washington for the Inauguration I would err on the side of NBC and the National Parks. But the discrepancy begs the question: how do you lose 200,000 people?
I am confused, by the way, over the National Parks Service being credited with crowd estimations. They don’t do it anymore, right? Except “unofficially” I guess. The Huffington Post was happy to highlight such an estimation that came via a Tweet from Brian Stelter of The New York Times:
So if the National Parks Service “unofficial” estimate of over 200,000 for the “Sanity” rally was good enough for The Huffington Post, why wasn’t the National Parks Service “unofficial” estimate of 300,000 for Beck’s “Honor” rally not a fair comparison too? Guess it might change the obliteration.
Jim of Silver Spring, Md., took this picture for The Blaze from the top of the Washington Monument (Laus Deo) as the “Sanity” rally kicked off:
Notice at the bottom the “scale” perspective ovals. It would be important to note that while they may be a helpful sense of geography — we must keep in mind that from the Washington Monument view the “Sanity” rally was further away.
Stewart himself made a clear point on the “size matters” front:
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert threw a big party and lots of people came. That’s great. I watched the entire broadcast. I enjoyed some of the non-fatwa endorsing music. I laughed a couple of times. All in all I thought it tended toward tedium. But that’s just me.
I’m more amazed at the palpable need by the folks at HuffPo to pull out the “OBLITERATES” line. Seems desperate. Both rallies were large, successful experiments in American democracy. Why not just say that? But I bet they’ll stay in the full-spin zone.
HuffPo cites a range of estimations for the “Sanity” rally — from 200,000-250,000. That’s probably about right. But it beggars credulity to pretend that the “Restoring Honor” rally was anything less than that. Did Beck draw twice the Stewart crowd? Maybe. I’ll settle for an estimation of 350,000! But, maybe Colby Hall at Mediate is right — call it a tie:
NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston reported yesterday that, having attended both, she thought that the Stewart rally was slightly larger than the Beck rally. The accepted rough estimate that emerged for the attendance at the Beck rally was roughly 200,000 (give or take.) And I suspect that the accepted rough estimate for attendance at the Jon Stewart rally will likely be the same.
I suggest that we just call it a tie?
In the end, Stewart is wrong. It’s not just size and color that matter here. It’s the content of the message and the kind of traction it finds in the citizenship. Let’s watch and bear witness.
Exit question — how are the One Nation rally organizers feeling after watching Stewart and company dwarf their efforts without much help from an armada of unions?
Remember this picture?