Count Down

Scheiber, Noam
February 2003
New Republic;2/3/2003, Vol. 228 Issue 4, p10
"The New York Times," "The Washington Post," and the "Los Angeles Times" all led their antiwar stories with allusions to 'tens of thousands' of protesters. For decades, the National Park Service served as the official arbiter of attendance statistics for marches on the Mall. Instead of just eyeballing the crowd, U.S. Park Police would divide the mall into a grid and take pictures from helicopters and from atop the Washington Monument to arrive at a reasonable density for each square. But the more accurate the Park Service tried to make its estimates, the more flak it took. And, when American Broadcasting Company News hired a respected Boston University professor by the name of Farouk El-Baz to look over the Park Service's numbers, it looked like he might have a legitimate gripe if not much of a legal case. Just after Congress put the kibosh on head-counting in 1996, one Park Police official acknowledged that the decision had sparked much debate within the agency--between public relation officers who felt reporters had a right to the information and counting officials who did not want the hassle.


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