President Trump cares about the size of his crowds — a lot — and has sometimes criticized the news media for underestimating them.
The lower number is the one the Times reported in its account of the rally, drawing a presidential tweet in protest. “The Failing and Corrupt @nytimes estimated the crowd last night at ‘1000 people,’ when in fact it was many times that number — and the arena was rockin,’ ” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “This is the way they demean and disparage. They are very dishonest people who don’t ‘get’ me, and never did!”
Alternative explanation: The Times just guessed wrong.
Reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis, who wrote the paper’s story about the rally, tweeted a mea culpa a few hours later: “President @realDonaldTrump is correct about his crowd last night. My estimate was way off, and we have corrected our story to reflect the fire marshal’s estimate of 5,500 people. When we get it wrong, we say so.”
The Times said so in a correction it published shortly thereafter: “An earlier version of this article cited an incorrect figure for the number of people attending President Trump’s rally. While no exact figure is available, the fire marshall’s office estimated that approximately 5,500 people attended the rally, not about 1,000.”
A Times spokeswoman, Danielle Rhoades Ha, offered a third variation on the theme in an emailed statement, “We take accuracy seriously. Whenever a potential error is brought to our attention, we look into it. In this case, the President’s tweet prompted our reporter to fact check the crowd size estimate with the Nashville Fire Department. The estimate in our story was incorrect, so we corrected it.”
Trump’s grievances about crowd size date to the 2016 campaign, when he regularly criticized TV networks for not showing crowd shots during live events. He was incorrect about this.
Upon taking office, he raised the issue to near-obsession by repeatedly blasting reporters for noting that his inauguration drew fewer spectators than the 2009 swearing-in of President Barack Obama. He even ordered his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to give a special briefing on the topic a day after the event. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe,” Spicer said at the time.
“It looked like a million, a million and a half people,” Trump said during a speech at the CIA headquarters the same day, claiming that his crowd “went all the way back to the Washington Monument.” He added that reported crowd estimates of the event were “a lie. We caught [the news media]. We caught them in a beauty.”
But side-by-side photos of the two inaugurations supported news media accounts that Trump had a smaller crowd.
Spicer later told the New York Times he “absolutely” regretted criticizing the media for accurately reporting the crowd size.
Trump, however, has never issued a correction.