Media Inflates Inaugural Attendance

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Despite widespread media claims that close to two million people attended the inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama, experts say the real number is closer to 800,000.

Newsbusters, a media watchdog agency, says the oft-repeated 1.8 million people who supposedly attended the ceremony is actually an analysis of an aerial photo of the event made by reporters at the Washington Post.
Even though the Post reported that “the official estimate released by the District yesterday is 1.8 million,” a spokesman for the District, David Barna, said they didn’t conduct their own count, but relied on the Washington Post’s estimate.

Meanwhile, a journalism professor at Arizona State Univeristy’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Stephen Doig, analyzed a GeoEye-1 satellite image of the event shot at 11:19 a.m. Taken 40 minutes before Obama’s swearing-in, Doig said he adjusted his estimation to include people who were yet to arrive but the number still didn’t exceed 800,000.

“The space-based image is fascinating because all the low-level shots make you think the crowd is much larger,” Doig said. “You see the very dense clots of people in front of the Jumbotrons but then the wide open spaces elsewhere.”

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