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Reality still has a liberal bias and Matt Kibbe has a unit problem

Photos do lie!Conservatives lost no time trumpeting the huge crowds they attracted for the “tea party” protest on 12 September. While most estimates were in the “thousands” or “tens of thousands”, conservatives were claiming as many as 2 million protestors, based on a photo (shown at right) published by the conservative “Say Anything” blog.

One conservative blogger wrote: “‘Media’ estimates range from 60,000 to 500,000 to around 2 million (yes, 2,000,000). Those estimates, the language employed, and the visuals chosen for use in reporting the rally and representing the people gathered, vary greatly based solely on bias.” The claim being that the more liberal the media outlet, the smaller numbers they reported for the protest.

There’s only one problem. The photo is at least 10 years old. It doesn’t include the “National Museum of the American Indian”, which opened in 2004. Closer inspection also shows construction cranes on the left side of the Natural History Museum, which were there during the 1990s when the IMAX theater was built.

Not only that, but reports of the actual protest on 12 September said that the protestors were mainly in the streets, not on the mall (as in the photo).

So, I’m going to have to agree with the blogger who claimed bias. It seems that the more conservative someone is, the more likely they were to report grossly inflated numbers.

Even funnier is the report at FiveThirtyEight, which blames the fabricated numbers on Matt Kibbe, the president of conservative FreedomWorks, who claimed that ABC had reported numbers between 1 and 1.5 million people, when they had actually said 60 to 70 thousand. This was then picked up by Michelle Malkin, but somehow grew to two million people.

The best line is when FiveThirtyEight points out that this is no small overstatement — this is a whopping 30-fold exaggeration. Or as Nate Silver put it, this is equivalent to Kibbe “telling people that his penis is 53 inches long.”  (Note that the art of the delicious insult is not dead — if 53 inches is a 30-fold exaggeration, then Kibbe’s penis must be less than 2 inches long.) Here’s a website that shows the exaggeration graphically.



  1. It would kill your layout to include on this page, but here’s a visual. 🙂 (SFW) or (still SFW, includes a brief discussion). I found it through Digg.
    (Digg is only sometimes safe for work, and usually not safe for one’s productivity)

    Monday, September 14, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  2. Cyn wrote:

    i’m still thinking 70,000 is too high. more likely in the 30’s.

    Monday, September 14, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  3. starluna wrote:

    I wish I had seen this before my applied sociology class today. We could have used this to discuss how facts may be biased (or in this case plain wrong). Going to have to get this into class discussion on Wednesday.

    Monday, September 14, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  4. By the way, has anyone figured out what event that photo is from? (I’m wondering if it’s the Million Man March, in particular.)

    Monday, September 14, 2009 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  5. Sammy wrote:

    I think, to be fair, every large protest or march is exaggerated by its organizers and underestimated by its detractors.

    If memory serves me correctly, the Million Man March organizers inflated crowd estimates to two million and police or some other agency estimated it at about a fifth of that.

    Honestly, organizers should be proud of what they could muster (unless no one shows up) so that detractors have nothing to mock.

    Monday, September 14, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    PolitiFact is not sure, but they believe that it was from a 1997 march organized by the Promise Keepers (a group for Christian men), which was attended by approximately 1 million people (I’m guessing mostly men, in that case). The link to PolitiFact is in the original story, but here it is again:

    Monday, September 14, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink
  7. Promise Keepers? Oh, now that makes sense. That’s a conservative group–I bet someone had this old image in a photo-file on their computer, and yanked it out when they realized they needed an image of a “really big crowd.”

    Yeah, ethics has gone out the window.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 4:52 am | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    The ironic thing is that it backfired. Those conservative sites have had to (grudgingly) retract their numbers and it makes them look like idiots. 60,000 is a reasonable number of people. Why did they feel the need to inflate the numbers, and why did they do it so clumsily and in a way that was so easily discovered?

    I also find it amazing to watch those videos of the people protesting. I mean, they went to a lot of trouble to go protest, but when you ask them the simplest questions they seem to have little idea of what they want. Or, if they seem to know what they want, then they have given it little thought.

    Like the people who say they want the government out of “everything”. Do they really want the US to be like Somalia?

    And where is all this anger coming from? Is this anger that is being drummed up by people like Limbaugh and Beck? Or are Limbaugh and Beck merely tapping in to an existing anger (about the economy, about having a black president, about loosening morals, etc.). Are these people correctly sensing the decline of American hegemony, but then misdirecting their anger? Are they being manipulated, or are secular liberals (like me) just unable to understand their frustrations?

    Many questions!

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  9. Kevin wrote:

    I think the anger is more about class warfare than anything, and the conservatives pundits are directing that anger at… well whatever the hell they think they can get away with. And by class warfare I don’t mean economic classes so much (poor vs. rich), but those who have higher education vs. those who don’t (and don’t want it).

    I came up with this theory from some coworkers I had at a former job. I was the only one with a college degree, and the others not only didn’t have one, they were PROUD of it. They seems to think getting a degree was some kind of attack on them personally, so they wanted no part of it. I found the attitude hard to fathom (after all, who expects people to be proud of having less education). And what was most telling was all of them were die-hard Republicans. The kind who listen to Rush and company and believe everything they say.

    So yeah, apparently we have a large group of Americans that feel threatened by higher education, and they HATE the Democrats with a passion since most Democrats tend to have a college degree.

    Gotta love the cognitive dissonance of them though, somehow Bush was OK, even though he had an ivy league degree… But man, on man, someone like Obama? He’s just downright scum for having a degree.

    What’s really sad about the whole thing is the other side of the coin (the Democrats with degrees) don’t hate or think less of those without degrees. Or at least I don’t know of any who do. I fully understand there are different paths to take in life and not everyone wants (or needs) a degree for their career. I never thought poorly of those coworkers for not having degrees (they were quite good at their jobs), but I certainly thought less of them for constantly trying to belittle my degree. Then again, maybe they were just assholes. 😛

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink