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How big was Beck's crowd? Who knows...

Radio and Fox television commentator Glenn Beck addresses

Radio and Fox television commentator Glenn Beck addresses thousands of people at a "Restoring America" rally at the Lincoln Memorial. (Aug. 28, 2010) Credit: MCT


 Anyone caught up with controversy - or debate, or disagreement; your choice of words - over the size of Glenn Beck's Restore Honor rally?

Hard to miss. He spent much of yesterday's show dealing with it, and Bill O'Reilly picked up the cudgel again last night. The spat is that the Mainstream Media - Fox News' code for the liberal media - underestimated the size of the crowd at the Mall. Beck says it was closer to 500,000 (and certainly not, for example, the "tens of thousands" that AP reported.)  CBS News reported closer to 87,000. Quite the descrepancy, eh? So who's right? Who knows - though just looking at the pictures, Beck would seem a bit closer to the right figure. CBS hired AirPhotosLive to come up with their number; this company uses (I believe) a low-hanging balloon to collect ground level photos to come up with their estimate. A brief search of Nexis, you'll be pleased to know, did not suggest that AirPhotosLive is a front for the DNC. They are also the ones who came up with that 1.4-plus million figure for the Obama inauguration.

Lemme just say here - journalist estimates of crowd sizes is a hugely fraught and inexact science, full of guesswork, political pressure, and outright balderdash. One of the original estimators of crowd size, who gave the media figures for the size of the Rose Bowl Parade, would calibrate numbers based on how he thought the crowd looked compared to the size of the crowd that would fill the Rose Bowl (about 100,000). Horror stories abound of how one political party rally organizer pushed phony numbers to the media, which reported them as accurate. The National Park Service won't even perform public crowd estimates any longer because of the flak it got over the count for the '95 Million Man March - 400,000, although Louis Farrakhan said it was (of course) a mill. So it goes.  No one will ever know the size of Beck's crowd.


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