JOURNO-FACT: Rally numbers lacking | WisCommunity

JOURNO-FACT: Rally numbers lacking

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editions today manage to cover another round of absolutely huge protests at the State Capitol without ever mentioning just how big they were.

On the other hand, the newspaper -- which has editorially endorsed Walker's measure to unilaterally impose state employee compensation cuts --  was quite happy to display photos and provide reportage vaguely suggesting that organized teabagger protests on Saturday were somehow, in some sense, equivalent in size.

Now, it should be said that the paper seems to have developed a policy in recent years of avoiding crowd estimates of large events. There is some legitimacy to this approach, in that estimating the density and spread of crowds, even from aerial photographs, is not an exact science. However, reporters over the years who have attended large-scale events and who are careful to compare notes often come to surprisingly similar conclusions. If you've ever attended a football game at Camp Randall, for instance, you have a really good feel for how big a crowd of 80,000 looks packed in tight. The image and that feeling travel well. The reason the old Journal and Sentinel began avoiding crowd size estimates was because civic cheerleaders would regularly inflate crowd estimates for non-controversial Milwaukee events including the Great Circus Parade and Summerfest. But everyone's on to those PR stunts, now, and they tend to underestimate, instead of over.

The Journal Sentinel did report that pro-labor demonstrators numbered in the "tens of thousands," but proceeded to describe how teabaggers and pro-labor forces squared off in an encounter that sounded as if it were equal in size.

It was equal in size, if you limited your perspective to the immediate staging area where the two sides literally faced off, separated by a physical barrier and police. "Thousands" of teabaggers were there, the newspaper reported. Yes, and thousands of pro-labor forces. IN THE IMMEDIATE VICINITY. But any conscientious observer of Saturday's rallies could easily discern that the pro-labor forces out-numered them by twenty to one or better.

That, too, was fuzzed up by the Journal Sentinel's coverage. Photo spreads showed an overriding proportion of teabaggers and their protest signs. No doubt some editor would see this as "balance," given that few teabaggers have appeared before and none in an organized manner. But that's like the current fetish in journalism with always balancing two opposing positions half and half -- or even, in the case of many talk shows -- two to one or better, in favor of conservatives.

How big was Saturday's rally? Various third parties -- including local police -- estimated the crowd at anywhere from 60,000 to 70,000 (see link below). Which happens to approach the total number of state employees. Many of the protesters were non-union allies, teens, and non-state represented employees and contingents from as far away as Maryland. And we're not counting all the dogs we saw. Indeed, the teabaggers were for the most part a pretty forlorn-looking bunch; they, too, were obviously awed by the opposition.

The sheer size of the event put the lie to Gov. Walker's contention that the numbers are not representative of state residents as a whole. As anyone who tracks this kind of political activity well knows, a person who takes time and makes effort and assumes the risks and costs (as in, lost wages) of attending a rally clearly is always representative of many more people who are like-minded but unable or unwilling to attend. It's just silly to imagine EVERYONE who disagrees with "Silent Majority" Walker has been on the streets, meaning to him that the opposition compared to the total population is really no big whoop. Well, then, based on yesterday's turnout, one assumes teabagger/Republican support must be truly infinitesimal. Obviously, Walker's take is, well, him trying to put lipstick on a pig.

Let's assume, quite reasonably, that for every pro-labor protester there are "only" 20 people statewide who agree. That would tally up to, conservatively speaking, 1.2 million people. And polling suggests the actual number is higher. But god forbid that the governor -- or the Journal Sentinel -- would put these massive, unprecedented demonstrations into full perspective. It would not really fit into their current world view.

UPDATE: It wasn't just the Journal Sentinel. From

Dear Truthout Community,

Once again, mainstream media outlets have aimed their spotlight on the Tea Party. As soon as a few Tea Partiers emerged on the scene in Madison, Wisconsin to stage a - by all accounts - very meager counter-protest this weekend, the corporate media immediately put them front and center. Most of the major news channels portrayed the protest and opposition as an equal battle, even though the Tea Partiers made up only a tiny fraction of the crowd.

But Truthout is still covering the real story in Madison: the flame of genuine progressive street action that burns brighter and brighter, as these protests build. We all knew that the corporate-sponsored Tea Party and the hate and deceit they spew would be no match for a real progressive movement for change.


February 20, 2011 - 11:46am