August 29th, 2010
10:07 AM ET
12 years ago

Wildly conflicting reports filed about Beck rally crowd size

ALT TEXT A view of the ‘Restoring Honor’ crowd. (PHOTO CREDIT: Simon Hernandez-Arthur /CNN)

Washington (CNN) - If you’ve ever tried to guess how many jelly beans are inside a huge jar, you have some idea what it’s like to estimate crowds at massive Washington D.C. rallies.

But the stakes in Washington are far higher, with the estimates politically charged and highly controversial. U.S. Park Police, burned by previous controversies, no longer makes them. So there are no official estimates of crowd size at events on the National Mall.

And Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally with Fox News and radio show host Glenn Beck was no different. There was wide disagreement of just how big the crowd near the Lincoln Memorial was, followed by claims that some estimates low-balled the size.

CBS News took a scientific approach, commissioning a crowd estimate by the company The network reported that AirPhotosLive estimated the crowd at 87,000 people. But they noted that with a margin of error of 9,000, “between 78,000 and 96,000 attended the rally.”

The NBC Nightly News estimated the number of people in attendance as “tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands.” reported “the rally has attracted more than 100,000 people.”

Fox News, citing organizers, aired a banner characterizing it this way: “CROWD ATTENDING BECK RALLY ESTIMATED AT OVER 500,000.”

The Washington Post noted that Beck told the crowd that he had heard “it was between 300,000 and 500,000."

And the Post quoted Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), speaking soon after the rally ended as saying, "We're not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today – because we were witnesses."

On the morning after the rally, Beck himself told Fox News Sunday that he believed the crowd was as low as 300,000 and as big as 650,000.

CNN contacted about the estimate they did for CBS News. A company official told CNN they used photos taken from their tethered balloons to shoot photos at the height of the crowd. They then had 3 experts use their own methodologies to evaluate the crowd. Company officials said they extrapolated the crowd size from 2-D and 3-D grids of the photographs marked off in small boxes.

The New York Times noted, “Officials do not make crowd estimates because they are unreliable and can be controversial,” adding, “by any measure it was a large turnout.”

So how many people were really there? In the end, most people will believe what their own eyes tell them. And the one estimate guaranteed to be right: Beck’s own comment making fun of the inevitable controversy: "I have just gotten word from the media that there are over 1,000 people here today.”

Sarah Palin responded to the media reports on her Twitter page around 12:45 p.m. ET.

"Silly media reports 'maybe thousands'@Beck’s 'irrelevant' event;insinuating MSM sheeple mustn't believe their own eyes&ears..." the tweet read.

(Updated at 12:55 p.m. ET)

Filed under: Glenn Beck
soundoff (158 Responses)
  1. jim

    Seems there are some Americans concered about Obama's "socialist utopia"

    August 29, 2010 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  2. bill daniels

    I was there on Saturday. What you can't see are the people under the trees. I've been to events in Philly that number 1 million... this was very close. So stop with the 80,000 bull. This was a monster crown to restore honor to government and the 4th estate. Grow-up.

    August 29, 2010 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  3. Robyn

    I am going with the Fox News estimate, that there were ten hundred thousand million billion trillion quadrillion quintillion bazillion people at the rally. That number should be as fair and balanced as all of their stories.

    August 29, 2010 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  4. MLJ

    Notice how the "crowd" in the photo is comfortably seated with much
    leg room? No people standing, shoulder to shoulder, packed in like
    sardines? That should give you some indication as to the size of the

    August 29, 2010 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  5. hillcrester

    There is no Honor in rabble-rousers like Beck. I hear he is near death–good riddance!!

    August 29, 2010 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  6. Anonymous

    the venom spewed by the left here in the comments says more than enough about cnn viewers and the left. It reminds me why I'm proud to be independent.

    August 29, 2010 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  7. garofulaar

    A bunch of old white bigots in lawn chairs and religious charlatans shouldn't be allowed to hijack the country. Intelligent people need to get out and vote in November.

    August 29, 2010 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  8. Duane Bernard, Tucson, Az

    The Koch brothers, big oil from Freedom Works, rented 1100 buses that if full could carry 65 people each, that more than 70,000 people. They came in from different states to inflate the totals. Who cares how many people they bus in ....... it's the bad information and ideas of this group that scares me.

    August 29, 2010 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  9. Will

    Some of you people making comments are truly deranged. It seems that it's just liberal fear coming out at the size and scope of the event. Clearly the days of tax/spend/borrow, 41% debt to GDP ratio and open borders are over. These are good things to change liberals, why does that scare you so much?

    August 29, 2010 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  10. scott

    So a professional company uses a scientific grid pattern to estimate less than 100,000 and every other Conservative group just guesses.
    Yet the Conservatives and Fox tout their numbers with ZERO science to back them up?
    Yup, sounds like typical fare from the Religous Right, believe us despite all evidence to the contrary.

    August 29, 2010 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  11. Pj

    NBC estimated the crowd at 300,000.

    August 29, 2010 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  12. Peace

    Was Michelle Bachmann counting "EYES"? Where did she get one million people? As per Beck's counting of 500,000 times two eyes each person has then you get one million.

    August 29, 2010 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  13. bill daniels

    By the way... Al Sharpton proved how irrelevant he has become and what a racist, segregationist that he is. Retire, Al. We are all Americans now. Wake up to the fraud that is Al ASharpton.

    August 29, 2010 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  14. kd

    Look at all those old, white people.

    August 29, 2010 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  15. Liz the First

    "Biggest fascist goon squad in history" should be the headline! how many did the Koch brothers bus in? these fools don't even know they're doing the bidding of the most dangerous men in America today. these two would do Bond villians proud with the way they're working to subvert the government and bring this country back to the days of the robber barons. the number, whatever it is, just represents how many suckers are running loose in this country today. how sad.

    August 29, 2010 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  16. Lee

    Wow...that's one white crowd...

    August 29, 2010 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  17. Pete

    If you want be an almost-instant millionaire in this country, just quit your day job, start spouting right-wing lunatic-fringe nonsense, swear allegiance to Fox News, call Obama and all liberals/Democrats baby-killing gay Muslim elitists, and arrange for lots of national media coverage.

    August 29, 2010 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  18. steveb

    I notice that the left seems to always fall back on personal attacks when they can't justify their point. Here is no different. Just face facts, your term is almost over thank god. The new right is taking hold and its a true grass roots organization. Its a new day.

    August 29, 2010 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  19. Donna

    We have the first amendment which allows us freedom of speech, so okay Beck spoke. But now those of us who have differing views get a chance too. Beck just doesn't get that.

    August 29, 2010 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  20. Laurie

    What a rip-off – they never came around with the Kool-aid.

    August 29, 2010 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  21. AnnaCatherine

    Estimates on the number of people in attendance vary according to the nature of the "cause". Beck's crowd would be exaggerated to the plus side. Sharpton to the down side. I refuse to believe that the Washington D.C.Police Dept. doesn't have crowd control down to a science. That would include the numbe of people at the Lincoln Memorial. Worth Mentioning is the the way Anti-war demonstrations are all but ignored. Half a million people demonstrated against VietNam which brought Pres. Johnson to his senses. Compare pictures of that day with yesterday and the difference is obvious.

    August 29, 2010 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  22. terry,va

    Keep dreaming about that low number CBS. From all the above ground photos with people lining both sides of the water down to the monument and people on the other side in the lawn part there had to be at least 250,000-300,000 people. To all the Obummie media networks keep downplaying the discontent in this country. You will be swept away in a tidal wave.

    August 29, 2010 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  23. md

    Those poor people look bored to tears!

    August 29, 2010 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  24. American

    47 years from now people will still be talking about Martin Luther King. This clowns speech will be forgotten by next week.

    August 29, 2010 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  25. Anonymous

    I love reading the fringe lefty comments on this story. Their tears sustain me.

    August 29, 2010 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
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