Tuesday, Dec. 08, 2009

Sizing Up the Tea Party

When all was said and done, the point of the tea-party march on Washington on Sept. 12 was not to compare estimates on the number of attendees but to show that grass-roots anger about government spending could lead to a full-on demonstration in the nation's capital. But there were a few snags along the way. One problem was that a group that helped organize the protest, FreedomWorks (slogan: "Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom"), vastly overestimated the number of participants. FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe stated onstage at the rally that ABC News had reported that 1.5 million were in attendance. Later, when the network said it had made no such claim, Kibbe apologized on his blog for the erroneous attribution, which by then had been repeated in other reports. "With a dead iPhone, I had been shown tweets from a number of different folks behind the stage citing the ABC estimate," he said. "They didn't say it. I regret misrepresenting the network." Most other mainstream news outlets had been sticking to estimates of "tens of thousands" or "between 60,000 and 70,000." (To avoid political battles like the one that occurred in this case, Washington officials do not release estimates.) Meanwhile, the thornier issue was whether the grass-roots tea-party protests should be characterized as AstroTurf, i.e., a sophisticated campaign orchestrated by lobbyists. Tea-party participants denied the allegation.