When I covered the Peter Jennings memorial last week, I tried to estimate how many people were packed inside Carnegie Hall, scanning the audience row by row, section by section. I came up with about 700 or 800.
The actual number, ABC told me later, was around 2,200.
My point is that doing crowd estimates isn't easy, and is far harder at a big, sprawling street demonstration spread over a large area. Since organizers almost always inflate their estimates, the only semi-reliable ones come from police who study aerial photographs.
I bring this up, as you've probably guessed, because of the back-and-forth over the antiwar and pro-war demos in D.C. over the weekend. At Saturday's antiwar protest, the organizers said 200,000; the cops said 150,000; other observers doubted 100,000 people showed up.
A typical post from the conservative side is on Little Green Footballs | http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=17641_What_If_They_Gave_a_Protest_and_Nobody_Came&only: "The only crowd shot I've seen so far is at Yahoo, where it looks like the turnout was much less than 100,000 people. The biggest crowd seems to have been at the free concert."
The pro-war rally Sunday was described by The Post as "tiny," with no numbers provided; supporters had expected thousands.
What was striking to me, in an online chat yesterday, is how quick some folks are to attribute such estimates--flawed as they might be--to ideological bias. A reader in Excelsior Springs, Mo. said: "CNN aired all through the afternoon that war supporters had 20,000 people show up for their [pro-war] rally. This was hours after the actual number of 400-500 people was reported by Associated Press and other news services including The Washington Post. At 3:40 p.m. eastern, Renae San Miguel said on CNN headline news- 'About 20,000 showed up in Washington today to voice support the Iraq war.' This was a bold faced lie that mislead anyone watching. My question is how long can the media continue to do the right wing's bidding before the nation realizes you are a mouthpiece for the administration?"
I didn't see the newscasts in question, but: right-wing bidding?
But during the same chat, a Reston, Va. reader wrote: "I am writing about the liberal bias in covering the pro-war demonstrations. It seems like the stories in The Post focus on the 'small crowds' and how they are essentially insignificant compared to the other demonstrations."
So which is it? Right-wing propagandists or liberal tools?
The most depressing came from someone in Bethesda, Md., who asked: "What would the networks do without Iraq to cover? Answer: not as well. Isn't it in their economic interests to play up the pro-war rally, to help prolong it and keep the cash cow coming in?"
Okay, so now television outlets are trying to keep the Iraq war going, at the cost of hundreds or thousands of additional American lives, so they can score higher ratings? Spare me. The irony is that Iraq fatigue is such that the networks haven't been doing all that much Iraq, and certainly not during hurricane season.
Speaking of the demos, Stop the Bleating | http://stopthebleating.typepad.com/stop_the_bleating/2005/09/spinning_the_pr.html says a middle-aged woman quoted by the WashPost as a novice protestor is actually a longtime antiwar organizer.
Has a New Bush arrived on the scene? The White House has said no to a Katrina czar, but now, reports the New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/09/26/national/nationalspecial/26cnd-storm.html:
"President Bush said today that he was considering naming a federal 'czar' to oversee the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast after the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but only after he heard more from state and local officials about how they would like to see their communities rebuilt."
Bush has been loath to call on his fellow Americans to give up anything, from tax cuts to Medicare benefits, but now, says the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-092605bush_lat,0,7610531.story?coll=la-home-headlines:
"President Bush urged Americans today to drive less, use mass transit more and embrace conservation in the wake of two major hurricanes, and said he would work with Congress to enact new incentives for energy production and refinery construction."
Next thing you know he'll be asking the oil companies to sacrifice. Okay, maybe not.
But it's the same old Bush administration in one sense: CBS | http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/09/26/katrina/main886323.shtml reports that Heck of a Job Brownie is still on the FEMA payroll as a consultant, charged with figuring out what went wrong on Katrina. I guess he plans to take his own deposition.
I want to stay with the emerging and multi-faceted debate over dealing with poverty in the post-Katrina period. Time's Joe Klein | http://www.time.com/time/columnist/klein/article/0,9565,1109292,00.html sees the need for racial cooperation:
"White racism is the original American sin; it helped create the culture of poverty that exists in places like New Orleans' Ninth Ward. And George W. Bush's dominant Republican Party was reborn in racism, having sided with Southern segregationists in the 1960s. But the tendency of some black baby boomers -- the civil rights generation -- to attempt to make gains by browbeating white people and ignoring the responsibility of the 'victims' themselves has been a total loser. By alienating Middle America, they have helped 'ravage' the Democratic Party. Their anger is irrelevant to the questions on the table: What can we as a society do to create opportunities for the poor? And, perhaps more important, how can we regain a national sense of community? . . .
"The most effective thing the Congressional Black Caucus could do to fight poverty would probably be to invite white and Hispanic legislators who have significant numbers of poor people in their districts to join its ranks and rename itself the Congressional Antipoverty Caucus. One could also argue that the only way to build a coalition to fight poverty -- and preserve affirmative action -- in this conservative era would be to base preferences on economic need rather than race."
Ron Brownstein | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-ideas25sep25,0,2891970.story?coll=la-home-headlines in the LAT reexamines how the parties are maneuvering for ideological advantage:
"Both Democrats and Republicans increasingly view the battered landscape of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as a giant laboratory for testing their competing domestic policy agendas. Politicians and policy advocates across the ideological spectrum -- John Edwards and Newt Gingrich, the Sierra Club and the Wall Street Journal editorial page -- are trying to jump-start new ideas, and revive old ones, by linking them to the massive post-Katrina reconstruction.
"For Republicans, the proposals include initiatives such as tax cuts for business, education aid that would follow students to private schools and the relaxation of federal environmental regulations. For Democrats, the priorities include expanded housing assistance for the needy, more generous income support for the working poor and new efforts to promote renewable energy and mass transit. What both sides share is that they see the massive reconstruction as a way to demonstrate the value of programs they hope will be adopted nationwide."
The Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/weather/articles/2005/09/25/rebuilding_plan_paving_way_for_conservative_goals/ focuses on long-deferred GOP dreams:
"Republican lawmakers in Congress have tried repeatedly in recent years to allow children to use federally funded vouchers to attend private schools. They have been defeated seven times since 1998.
"At least nine times in the past decade, Republicans sought to repeal or undermine a Depression-era law that requires federal contractors to pay the 'prevailing wage' in the region they are working in. None of the efforts succeeded.
"But now the GOP is poised to realize both of those goals. President Bush's reconstruction package for the Gulf Coast region devastated by Hurricane Katrina includes nearly $500 million for vouchers that children can use at private schools anywhere in the nation. And Bush declared a ''national emergency" to waive the prevailing wage law during the cleanup, freeing contractors to pay construction workers as little as the minimum wage, rather than the $8 to $10 prevailing wages in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.
"As the federal government's response to Katrina takes shape, the White House and Congress are enacting or seeking to pass a wide range of policies that have been consistently rejected by Congress, despite Republican majorities in the House and Senate."
Some bloggers are kicking around Tim Russert for having back on Sunday Aaron Broussard, the man who provided one of the most emotional moments I've seen on TV after the Katrina disaster. Once Broussard turned out to have gotten some facts wrong, I don't think Russert had much choice but to have him back.
Jeff Jarvis | http://www.buzzmachine.com is highly critical:
"Three weeks ago, I linked to Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard's outburst on Meet the Press about the mother of a colleague who died, abandoned, in a flooded nursing home. Two weeks later, I said it was my responsibility to link to a correction about details of that story. And now I'll link to Tim Russert's ambush (David Weinberger | http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/mtarchive/004507.html's quite appropriate word) on Broussard and Brian Oberkirch | http://www.lightbox5.com/likeitmatters/'s wise and blunt perspective about all this.
"This turned into a game of factual gotcha and in the process some lost sight of the real story and the real tragedy and that is by far the greater failure.
On this week's Meet the Press, Russert replays Broussard's emotional appearance for him and then goes after him on the facts. The woman who died was in a nursing home where the owners have been indicted for neglecting and not evacuating their residents. So, Russert says, that's not the feds' fault, huh? Russert gets up on a factual high-horse but Broussard puts him right back in his place, explaining that he learned what he said from his staff and that he certainly did not cross-examine his colleague about the mother he could not rescue, who had just died."
In fact, Russert let an increasingly agitated Broussard go on and on Sunday without interrupting him.
"That does not make the story of neglect of the entire city of New Orleans by government at all -- all -- levels any less vital. And Broussard says so:
"Sir, that woman is the epitome of abandonment. She was left in that nursing home. She died in that nursing home. Tommy will tell you that he tried to rescue her and could not get her rescued. . . .
"Listen, sir, somebody wants to nitpick a man's tragic loss of a mother because she was abandoned in a nursing home? Are you kidding? What kind of sick mind, what kind of black-hearted people want to nitpick a man's mother's death? They just buried Eva last week. . . . It will be the saddest tale you ever heard, a man who was responsible for safekeeping of a half a million people, mother's died in the next parish because she was abandoned there and he can't get to her and he tried to get to her through EOC. He tried to get through the sheriff's office. He tries every way he can to get there. Somebody wants to debate those things? My God, what sick-minded person wants to do that. . . .
"Russert keeps riding his horse. He wants Broussard to somehow say that by getting facts of this story wrong, his criticism of the feds was thus invalidated, was not 'fair' (and what a schoolyard word that is in this context). Broussard won't bite. . . .
"Tim Russert lost sight of the story because he was embarrassed that bloggers caught a guest on his show with facts that were wrong. Russert's proper response should have been to fix those facts quickly and clear but still pursue the real story. Instead, he chose to shoot the messenger who embarrassed him with the bloggers. He lost sight of his real mission."
Dick Meyer | http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/publiceye/main500486.shtml of CBS offers a sharp rebuke to these two sentences by Jarvis:
"Anybody can get facts. Facts are the commodity.
"This made my blood boil. Read the whole post to get the context for yourself. I doubt that Jarvis wanted these two sentences to get the deconstruction they are about to get; I think he was trying to make a narrow and legit point that sometimes nit-picking the details of story are a means of avoiding the deeper meaning and moral dimension of the story. But . . . facts are not a commodity. Anybody cannot get the facts. True facts are very hard to come by. And anyone who doubts that truly has no respect for journalism and reporting."
Remember those rumored reports of rapes and shootings inside the Superdome? The New Orleans Times-Picayune | http://www.nola.com/newslogs/tporleans/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_tporleans/archives/2005_09_26.html#082732 puts them to rest:
"After five days managing near-riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies. 'I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome,' Beron recalls the doctor saying.
"The real total was six, Beron said. Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies."
Anyone else want to run corrections?
As the Frist story continues to resonate--Is he Martha Stewart without the television shows?--Jason Leopold | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-leopold/will-frist-survive_b_7862.html says on Huffington Post that the press had fallen down on the job:
"Frist had attempted to have it both ways since he created his so-called blind trust in the 1990s: being intimately involved with his investments that directly conflict with his political work as a senator and then claiming that he's totally unaware of his personal financial investments -- and stock sales -- because it's in a blind trust.
"The mainstream media, quick to accept Frist's statements that he's been in the dark about his HCA holdings, was complicit in allowing the obvious conflict of having a senator who makes national decisions on healthcare that directly benefit the senator's fortunes and that of his family, fall off the radar screen.
The Chicago Tribune's Steve Johnson | http://www.chicagotribune.com/technology/chi-0509260025sep26,1,1528948.column?coll=chi-news-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true examines the practice known as "Google bombing" and how some folks managed to link Bush's name with the phrase "miserable failure."
More evidence that the NYT's real estate section is not aimed at my income bracket in this | http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/realestate/25nati.html article: "The Allure of Buying Your Own Private Island."