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Fudging the Protesters' Numbers

Reported by Judy - August 30, 2004 -

Fox News today ( August 30)) did its best to downplay Sunday's protest march in New York City in advance of the GOP convention by low-balling the number of protesters.

Fox and Friends co-host Steve Doocy demonstrated the Fox approach when he said that "official estimates fell about half from where they thought they would end up" but did not indicate what either the official or advance estimates were. Jon Scott did call the protest "huge" but did not offer any numbers. Referring to the protest a second time, Scott "asked" GOP strategist Rich Galen about it, saying, "There was going to be the big protest yesterday. It was big, but not as big as everybody thought it was going to be." Again, he gave no numbers. Galen played along, saying, "It was maybe half the size, maybe 40 percent of the size, but it was still pretty big."

Co-host Brian Kilmeade referred to the lowest official estimate, saying more than 100,000 people marched. The sub-message is that despite tens of thousands of people marching, the protest was a dud because "half," or "maybe 40 percent" of some unspecified number showed up.

Only James Rosen broke party ranks and estimated the number of marchers at 200,000 to 500,000. Apparently, he didn't get the boss's memo regarding how to refer to the protesters' numbers.

The New York Times, on the other hand, said organizers of the rally estimated half a million people participated, more than double the 250,000 they expected. The Times also noted that the New York Police Department does not give "official" estimates but that a police official along the route said the half a million figure was reasonable.

In two hours of Fox and Friends and Fox News Live, Fox did not indicate a source for its "official estimate." The Associated Press used a figure of 100,000 to 150,000 in its early press accounts of the march on Sunday. By Monday morning, the same time at which Fox was broadcasting, The AP was reporting: "One New York official put the size at over 120,000. Organizers put the number at some 400,000." Fox never indicated if The AP was the source for its official estimate. If it was, Fox needs to explain why it did not refer to the range of estimates that The AP gave.

Nor did Fox offer other descriptions of the crowd that would convey its magnitude without tying it to a specific number, such as how far the line of protesters stretched.

Regardless of the numbers, Fox also tried to show the protesters in a bad light. Galen referred to one person who was holding a sign reading, "Hands Off Venezuela" but said somebody just gave it to him to carry and he didn't know what it meant. Democratic strategist Elaine Kamarck was able to emphasize the "good humor" of the crowd" and the "good and generally civilized way of protesting" that was shown in the march but did not counter the pessimistic numbers being pushed by Fox.