How haste inflates the size of a crowd

Crowd estimates are notoriously inaccurate.

The reporter of this story was careful to note that there were “about 100 people” at this rally across the street from the Kansas Capitol.

On deadline, the editor of the story apparently saw “100” and translated that into “hundreds.”

So the headline turned a rally of “about 100 people” into a full-fledged demonstration, and readers who didn’t bother to look beyond the headline got the impression that hundreds of Kansans were clamoring for an end to a “radical agenda” of health care for everyone.

The online headline did a better job of depicting the story: “Rally speakers blast Democratic administration.”

Two lessons: Beware of crowd estimates. And remember that journalists walk a fine line in reporting political rhetoric. Report it fairly, but don’t mistake it for truth.

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