Everyone knew today’s Rally to Restore Sanity would be a hit, and if the independent estimates of crowd size are any indication, Jon Stewart’s rally was the most well attended of the year as it is estimated that at least 250,000 people attended. This number easily doubles and almost triples the attendance for Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor.
A CTV story estimated the crowd size at 250,000, “In an impassioned 15-minute speech, Stewart told a crowd estimated to number at least 250,000, that their presence has restored his sanity.” Even the AP conservatively offered an estimate that the crowd size rivaled Beck’s, “Screens showed a variety of pundits and politicians from the left and right, engaged in divisive rhetoric. Prominently shown: Glenn Beck, whose conservative Restoring Honor rally in Washington in August was part of the motivation for the Stewart and Colbert event, called the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. It appeared to rival Beck’s rally in attendance.”
During the rally, the hosts of Myth Busters estimated the crowd at 150,000. No matter which estimate one chooses to go with, it’s clear that the crowd size greatly exceeded the 60,000 that Comedy Central expected when they applied for their park permit. There were reports that the crowd exceeded the designated rally area and spilled out into other parts of the National Mall, so it is a pretty safe to say that hundreds of thousands of people were there.
Right wing media has responded to the success of Stewart’s rally, not by denying his attendance numbers, but inflating Beck’s rally attendance figures. Even though independent estimates put the size of Beck’s rally at 87,000-96,000 attendees, conservative media, lead by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Beck himself have turned the Rally to Restore Honor into a mythic event which was attended by a half a million people. Of course, those who make these claims have absolutely no proof to back it up, and they never question the fact that these inflated attendance figures come from biased sources.
This week Beck proclaimed that unless Jon Stewart drew a million people his rally would be a failure. Beck said, “I love this. Barack Obama is going on The Daily Show. If there’s not a million people at the mall. They have Oprah. They have Barack Obama. They have The Huffington Post, all paying for these trips. There should be 300 million people on the mall, or they are absolutely the most powerless people on the planet.”
Instead of looking powerless, it seems the Rally to Restore Sanity has outdrawn any live event that Glenn Beck has ever done. The sad reality is that the argument over which rally was bigger will only serve to highlight the polarized disconnect in our country. Many who are willing to use facts will accept that Stewart’s rally was larger than Beck’s, while the right wing ideologues will hold on to their fairy tale of a half a million people at Beck’s rally, but at least for one day reasonableness became a topic in our a national dialogue. For this reason alone, no matter how many people attended The Rally to Restore Sanity was a success.