Surprise: far right lies about size of D.C. teaparty protests, inflates size by over *66 times*

I first picked up on this from NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen on Twitter. As has been the case with virtually every teabagger protest since the astroturf gatherings were founded, this march on D.C. was the idea of — and organized directly by — corporate lobbyists at FreedomWorks. The site which is soliciting donations, 912dc.org, is owned and operated by corporate lobbying group FreedomWorks.

FreedomWorks was founded by former Republican House Majority Leader and current corporate lobbyist, Dick Armey, and has significant support from billionaire Republican Steve Forbes. Forbes during his runs for President supported the privatization of social security, as most Republicans did, which would have resulted in the wholesale lose of social security during the recent recession.


FreedomWorks’ website is loaded with proud articles about their lobbying organization “dominating the news” due to their invention of the teabagger parties, and encourages readers to check out photos from “FreedomWorks’ events” which are naturally photos from teaparties.

Since these teaparty lobbying events were never grassroots to begin with, it’s hard to believe that very many people — even for a centralized march paid for by a well connected GOP lobbying firm — would show up since the only real protest going on is one of political power. Inflated numbers, which really understates the seriousness of these lies, were to be expected, and the right has not disappointed.

Michelle Malkin has been ratcheting up fake numbers all day, starting with “1.2 million”, defaming America as a police state (which it sadly was under much of the Bush reign and threatens to be with unconstrained executive powers), and then attributing numbers as high as 2 million to ABC News.

That would be an impressive accomplishment for an astroturf event filled with tools and friends of lobbyists, but hardly seems probable given their limited public influence. In fact, ABC News correspondent Yunji de Nies reported that after checking all of ABC’s coverage, she can’t find any instance where ABC claimed that 2 million people had attended the march. NBC’s David Shuster spoke with the D.C. park police, who said that FreedomWorks’ own estimate of 30,000 was “generous”.

Shuster also reported later that in his experience covering twenty plus years of D.C. marches, “when the crowd goes only as far as 3rd st, it is 50,000 or less.”

Fox News, which is virtually sponsoring the events with coverage so extensive that Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote that it “seems like a fairly new phenomenon that we now have a political movement led by a TV ‘news’ outlet – that usually happens elsewhere”, is also reporting the crowd numbers to only been in the tens of thousands. That is a very far cry from 2,000,000.

From that, it appears reasonable to estimate crowd size at somewhere around 20,000-25,000 at best, a pathetic showing for a pathetic astroturf campaign that has been in the planning stages since before April of this year.

As I was writing this story, John Robinson, editor of the Greensboro News & Record, noted that with the wire services estimating crowd size (most people say listen to the Park Police and ignore everyone else, they tend to be far more accurate) as low as 25,000, but no higher than 50,000, he’ll have to spend tomorrow “responding to complaints of bias in attendance”. Rosen is probably not wrong when he replied “the likely purpose of Malkin’s 2 million figure is exactly that.”

Journalists do their job by reporting actual crowd numbers and the right, by intentionally lying about it, can give themselves another free target: the media. They play this game literally all the time and there’s no reason they’ll stop anytime soon.

It’s sad but not at all surprising that the far right would lie about the size of their lobbyist-organized fake protests. The right has no real grass roots and constantly suffers from an inability to apply public pressure from truly spontaneous events and mass gatherings by the public, and zero ability to raise money from anyone other than billion dollar corporations and lobbying groups exactly like FreedomWorks. They are the true constituency of the modern GOP, they control its agenda, and they control the money that pulls the strings.

Update:
TPM has some photos from the march/event, which includes Republican Senator James Inhofe speaking. Inhofe is both a global warming denier, and a birther. Nice company the teabaggers are keeping. Media Matters also notes that FreedomWorks was bragging about “hundreds of thousands” of protestors attending this tiny event of 25,000 not even one full month ago.

Paul Tenny

Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.
Paul Tenny

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