AP: Math Is Hard

The Associated Press covered our rally and lobby day last week and reported the following…twice (emphases mine):

“I work in a business where they take great care of you if you are working,” Falco told a crowd of several hundred at the rally.

Across from the Capitol Thursday, hundreds of people, including actress Edie Falco, rallied for health care overhaul.

I emailed three reporters at the AP (and their boss) to explain we had a crowd of 10,000, and at the very least, the accurate account would be thousands instead of hundreds. I broke it down accordingly:

We and our partners paid for 207 buses (a number which has actually grown by 14 now that the final tally is in) – each of which held 55 people. Let’s assume only 40 got on each. That’s 8280 people right there that we physically brought to DC ourselves. Add onto that the 250+ who flew into town, those who drove on their own from neighboring states, and those who turned up through Organizing for America, Democracy for America, and MoveOn.org. We had 7500 lunches, and anyone who got a lunch had to turn in a ticket to receive it. We ran out. The 13,500 bottles of water disappeared quickly too.

I even sent several other news reports as examples of outlets that got it right as proof that their reporter had perhaps severely underestimated the size of the crowd:

WSJ: Thousands of union members and other advocates of overhauling the health care system rallied on Capitol Hill today to demand high quality, affordable health care for all — this year.

Miami Herald: Thousands of their constituents rallied outside the Capitol to show their support for change, and the Obama administration called for action.

CBS: In a rally on Capitol Hill today, some high profile politicians joined thousands of union workers, doctors and other health care reform supporters in a united front against the industry and demanded a government-sponsored health insurance option.

Politico: Thousands of grassroots activists and labor workers from across the country flooded Capitol Hill Thursday for a high-volume rally for health care reform.

For the Associated Press to refuse to correct its tally is ludicrous. Even though the Park Police no longer calculate estimates, a uniformed officer told us it was the largest gathering he’d ever seen in Upper Senate Park. The permitted area holds 2500. Our crowds spilled way over that capacity. Not even close.

The most frustrating part of the whole debacle is that papers nationwide reprint the AP. So when they screw up, the numbers of record become grossly understated. 10,000 is a lot different than “hundreds,” especially when it comes to covering a story about the breadth of support for health care reform.

It’s one thing to stand by your reporter when the story’s subjective. It’s another to back up a bad report when the facts are indisputable.

There is no shame in correcting the record. There is shame in refusing to admit you’ve rewritten the record and should go back and make it right.

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