Nice Counting There, New York Times!

It doesn’t speak well of the New York Times’ layers upon layers of fact-checkers and editors that this paragraph made it to publication.

The demonstrators numbered well into the tens of thousands, though the police declined to estimate the size of the crowd. Many came on their own and were not part of an organization or group. But the magnitude of the rally took the authorities by surprise, with throngs of people streaming from the White House to Capitol Hill for more than three hours.

Of course, if you wanted to downplay the magnitude of the tea party protest in DC yesterday, it works just fine. But as an accurate portrayal of a news event, it stinks on toast.

Any good editor, playing this story straight, would have asked the reporter why the authorities were taken by surprise by the size of the crowd if there were only “tens of thousands” of people (which implies less than a hundred thousand). Likewise, that objective professional editor should have asked why it took such a small crowd three hours to get from the White House to the Capitol.

According to Google Maps, it’s a bit over a mile and a half from Lafayette Square, by the White House, to the US Capitol — a trip that should take about 30 minutes? So what the heck was happening that it took so few people six times as long to get from one to the other? Were they crawling? Dragging heavy weights behind them? Pausing for the occasional line dance?

Here, by the way, is a time lapse video of the crowd. Sure, you could call it “tens of thousands”, but only if you’re trying to deceive your readers into thinking the momentous gathering yesterday was just a moderate crowd of cranks.

It’s probably a good thing that reporter doesn’t work the science beat. We’d end up reading about the “dozens and dozens” of galaxies in the universe.

Jimmie runs The Sundries Shack, is a contributing writer to the American Issues Project, and has his own podcast called “The Delivery”. He is also an amateur musician, an aspiring composer, an unrepentant geek and would love you to pay his blog a visit. Oh, this post is cross-posted there, too.

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