Saturday's massive gathering in Washington, DC, put on by Comedy Central hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, was by all accounts a rousing success.
But it's difficult to gauge how many people attended an event like "The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear." Even The Wall Street Journal hesitated in placing the number, but they noted that about 229,000 Facebook users sent RSVPs for the event.
Turns out that number is pretty close to accurate, according to an estimate commissioned by CBS News which cites AirPhotosLive.com for the data. CBS paid the same company to apply the same counting methodology to Glenn Beck's rally in August, placing attendance at 87,000.
For Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, both of whom thrive on satirizing the more absurd elements of cable news media and especially the controversial and dramatic Fox News opinion hosts, their rally was more than twice as large, at an estimated 215,000.
This aerial photo was featured on Reddit.com. Click for larger version.
After the estimate came under fire by conservative bloggers and Beck himself, CBS released a detailed explanation of their methodology, noting that the company is used by the Department of Homeland Security, the US border patrol and numerous other private-sector clients.
The company also happened to offer the only scientific analysis of crowds at either rally.
While Beck's rally attracted largely the ultra-conservative tea partiers, who almost universally plan to vote GOP, the vast majority of Stewart and Colbert's crowd were moderates, liberals and Democrats -- and a poll found that just 1 percent of attendees said they'd vote for a Republican.
Yet, given Stewart's closing monologue and the event's overall theme of tolerance and compromise, he'd probably like to dismantle the question of whose rally was larger and why, inevitable as it may be.
"If the picture of us were true, of course our inability to solve problems would be quite sane and reasonable," he said. "Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our constitution, or racists and homophobes who see no one's humanity but their own.
"We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate and how it's a shame to work together to get things done. The truth is, we do! We work together to get things done every-damn-day! The only place we don't is here (Washington, DC) or on cable TV. But Americans don't live on cable TV."
Most analysts expect Republicans, driven by the momentum of the tea parties and a dissatisfaction at Obama's handling of the economy, to make significant gains in Tuesday's congressional and gubernatorial polls, but polling in many races has tightened in recent weeks as campaigning comes down to the wire.
After controversies over the sizes of past rallies, the National Park Service, which is responsible for the Mall, does not provide crowd estimates.
AirPhotosLive.com said its estimate had a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percent.
Beck maintains that between 300,000 and 500,000 people attended his event, but has not provided a source for his estimate.
This video was broadcast by Comedy Central on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010.
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