Thursday, January 22, 2009

Media Falsely Hyped Obama Inauguration Crowd Size




What a surprise! The main stream media appear to have mislead the American people regarding the number of people in attendance at Barack Obama's Inauguration.

Before the election, liberals outlets like The Huffington Post suggested there would be as many as 5 million people in attendance.

Then the AP, having successfully made the transition from credible news source to liberal propaganda machine during the 2008 election, hyped a Mayor's unscientific estimate in their headline: D.C. Mayor Expects 3M For Inauguration.

Newsbusters reports:

Baltimore Sun: "Inaugural crowd is estimated at close to 2 million"

Boston Globe: " The National Park Service says it will rely on a media report that says 1.8 million people attended President Obama's inauguration."

MSNBC: "Oh, and some guy named Barack Obama. Along with millions of regular folk, celebrities swarmed to DC to celebrate the Inauguration." (from the same page: "Could Inauguration Crowd Reach 4 Million?")

LA Times: "Crowds surged in previously unseen numbers today for the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, making it seem increasingly likely that the gathering would reach the record-setting mark of 2 million."

Here's where it gets good.

Washington Post: "the official estimate released by the District yesterday is 1.8 million, a figure that would make the gathering the largest ever on the Mall."

Backstory on that "official estimate released by the District" that the Washington Post is writing about.

AP: "Park service spokesman David Barna said the agency did not conduct its own count. Instead, it will use a Washington Post account that said 1.8 million people gathered on the U.S. Capitol grounds, National Mall and parade route, he said."

And that is especially interesting because if you follow the jump on the Washington Post story you'll find this nugget of info: "The Washington Post's analysis of the image concluded that about 1 million people were on the Mall." And the first page of the article mentions the parade route "was supposed to accommodate 300,000 people at its height". Fuzzy math, a journalist staple.

Well, for those interested in some sort of actual journalism, ASU journalism professor, Stephen Doig, used satellite imaging to get an accurate (or at least a more accurate) count of the Obama inauguration crowd. His count, even after accounting for those still in route 40 minutes prior to the event, was around 800,000; which falls short of the 1.2 million record set in 1965 at Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration.

Professor estimates crowds with satellite image
By: Griselda Nevarez
Published On: Wednesday, January 21, 2009



An ASU journalism professor using satellite images calculated that 800,000 people attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony.

Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor Stephen Doig calculated the official inauguration crowd estimate after analyzing a GeoEye-1 satellite image shot at 11:19 a.m. from a height of 423 miles. GeoEye-1 is a military-controlled satellite.

Doig said the image was taken 40 minutes before Obama’s swearing-in, but adjusted his estimation to include people who were still coming in before the swearing-in.

“The space-based image is fascinating because all the low-level shots make you think the crowd is much larger,” Doig said. “You see the very dense clots of people in front of the Jumbotrons but then the wide open spaces elsewhere.”

Doig originally tried to calculate the crowd size through a camera hanging from a balloon 700 feet off the ground.

The balloon was operated from the ground by a company called Digital Design & Imaging Service. The Virginia-based company specializes in taking scenic pictures for planning projects of architects and developers.

Company president Curt Westergard asked Doig to calculate the amount of people at the inauguration from an image the camera took.

The camera initially went up at 4:50 a.m. and took its last photo at 7:30 a.m. MST.

Westergard said the camera was intended to take a picture two hours before the inauguration began, but because of George Bush’s early arrival and temporary flight restrictions, officials had the balloon come down earlier than expected.

Doig said one of the issues with the camera was the clarity of the vantage point. He said that is the reason why he was unable to calculate the crowd size.

“It was a beautiful photo but useless for crowd counting because it was not a clear photo,” Doig said.

Jody Brannon, national director of the Carnegie-Knight News21 Journalism Initiative, said technology has become a tool to help journalists report fairly and responsibly.

“For this historic event, not only is technology now available to help with accuracy, but Steve is a specialist experienced in reporting on crowds,” Brannon said in an e-mail. “So it’s a double-win to help chronicle history with great precision.”

Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, said Doig’s involvement in measuring the crowd size is significant.

“Steve is one of the real stars in understanding how data and journalism fit together,” Gillmor said in an e-mail. “So it makes perfect sense for him to be involved with this.”

Gillmor said aerial imagery has become a useful tool when making crowd estimates.

“In the past, we’ve had deliberate over- and under estimating of crowds to fit political agendas,” Gillmor said. “If technology can help us be more accurate, all the better.”

Reach the reporter at griselda.nevarez@asu.edu.
This story confirmed by cnet News
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