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by Peter Maiden (pmaiden [at]
Saturday Mar 1st, 2003 3:25 PM
The crowd count at a demonstration is a vital measure of the strength of the message of the protest. There are many players in the numbers game. Controversy has recently blown the question of counts wide open. An Indymedia reporter who has been covering the protests tells the story.
We had been up over San Francisco that Saturday, January 18, 2003, for a little over a half an hour. I figured I had just enough time to do one more thing before heading back. Over the headset, I asked the helicopter pilot to hover behind City Hall. He was a top-notch pilot; he had been following my instructions to the letter. I snapped my last few still photos and put both my 35mm cameras away. I pulled the digital video camera from its bag. I had never used a camera like it before. I had only been quickly instructed on it the previous evening. I set the focus on infinity and adjusted the image in the viewfinder until the light looked right. Then I asked the pilot to make a slow circle around Civic Center Plaza. I held the camera as still as I could and looked down a thousand feet at what was below. It was an enormous number of people, all protesting the injustice of the impending war against Iraq.

Exactly how many people? That was an essential question. On October 26, 2002, there was a similar protest march: down Market Street from Justin Herman Plaza to Civic Center Plaza. The organizers, not consciously trying to inflate their count, had estimated there were 100,000 people. The police, and consequently the mainstream press, counted it at 25-40,000. This was a big discrepancy, and it called out to be rectified.

Nessie, of the San Francisco Indymedia collective, which has been covering demonstrations large and small for over two years, had wanted to send a balloon up with a camcorder hanging from it at the next big demonstration to give the lie to the establishment’s crowd count. But it was ANSWER that got serious and hired a helicopter. Act Now to Stop War and End Racism is the organization which was doing the basic work involved in putting on many San Francisco demonstrations – raising money, doing outreach, getting permits, providing the stage and the sound system. It took less than a day’s time for ANSWER to raise the thousand dollars to pay for the chopper, an indication of the perceived importance of the count among their supporters. ANSWER’s veteran demonstration photographer Bill Hackwell had to stay on the ground because he had duties with security for the march. He called me in my capacity as photo co-ordinator for SF Indymedia, asking if we could get someone to shoot from the air. After thinking about it for a little while, I called back and volunteered. The resulting pictures ran on the Indymedia website the evening of the day of the demo.

The San Francisco Police Department estimated 55,000 had been at the January 18 demo, a figure that was repeated in the Sunday edition of the Chronicle. But I was contacted Monday by Chronicle reporter Wyatt Buchanan, who been struck by the photos on the Indymedia website. He showed them to people in his office, and some said the crowd looked “as big as Bay to Breakers,” the annual distance run across the city. The Indymedia photos showed that at a point in time Market Street was full of people from McCallister Street near U.N. Plaza back to Justin Herman Plaza with the Civic Center Plaza being nearly full as well. Buchanan told me he called SFPD Public Affairs and presented them with this information, and their office changed the official estimate from 55,000 to 150,000! Their excuse for the undercount was that they had estimated based on a crowd filling Civic Center, but had left Market Street out of their calculations. It seemed to me right then that there would be a major change in San Francisco crowd counts. As the SFPD went, so would go the mainstream media. The Chronicle reported the police estimate increase the next day, creating interest among other mainstream media outlets.

January 28, Tuesday of the following week, San Jose Mercury science reporter Lisa Krieger published a two-page story on the mathematics of crowd counts. She used an Indymedia photo showing the march on Market Street with the headline: “40,000? 250,000? Making Crowd Estimations a Mix of Guesswork, Science, Politics.” The focus of the article was mathematics, and Krieger explained several mathematical methods that could be used in estimating crowd size. Someone could count how many people passed a given spot on the march in a minute, then multiply by the number of minutes the march took to go by. ANSWER did that January 18 and came up with a figure of 180,000. An alternative method was to measure the square meters of the area of the march, and divide by the crowd density. Mathematician David Chandler used this approach, arriving at a total of 138,000 for Market Street when it was full. But Chandler believed he had evidence that people kept arriving at the starting point of the march for such a long time that Market Street was actually filled twice. All told he figured there were 250,000 people at the event. Krieger suggested that an accurate methodology could be to fly an airplane over a demo with a camera pointed straight down, and then use a grid system on the photos to accurately measure the crowd.

A February 16 march, organized by ANSWER and several other coalitions, took the same route the January one had. Some demonstrators said it felt smaller than the January march, and others said it felt larger. It was similarly long and dense, and people were packed shoulder to shoulder after the crowd arrived at Civic Center Plaza. I spent part of the day on the seventh floor of an office building at 1 Hallidie Plaza on Market Street, the home of Green Action, a friendly environmental group. There, Bob Sarnoff, a local civil engineer and architect, was videotaping the entire march as it went by to make a count. Isabel Duran from KRON News came up to the office to interview Sarnoff. She complained she had just spent 25 minutes waiting to talk to a police captain about the crowd size and was dismayed when all he had to say was “Oh, the numbers don’t mean anything!” We talked about how crowd sizes were often estimated by comparison with earlier crowds, but who knew how big the earlier crowds really were? It was a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Amazingly, after February 16 the organizers of the march, the SFPD and the mainstream media agreed for the first time on a crowd count: 200,000 people. That figure was in the headlines of the Chronicle and the Mercury, and was repeated around the world. It seemed that reality had finally entered the numbers game, a victory for the demonstrators. The march was certainly too big to ignore. The peace movement had perhaps gone mainstream. The Bush administration was evidently being stymied.

Then on Friday, February 21, the Chronicle revealed it had taken a foray into high-tech aerial photography on the 16th, with surprising results. The story, by Wyatt Buchanan and others, ran on the front page, with an additional spread across pages 8 and 9 of the front section. The Chronicle used a system similar to one Krieger had laid out in the Mercury. Air Flight Service of Santa Clara, a company catering to military contractors, had flown a fixed-wing aircraft, with a special aerial camera pointed through the floor of the aircraft, and come back with a series of 9x9 inch black and white negatives. A grid was juxtaposed over the prints made from those negatives, and then the individuals were counted square by square and added up. The Chronicle said they double-checked the count. Incredibly, their total was only 65,000! Buchanan told me even he was skeptical about the result. The Chronicle’s Reader’s Representative, Dick Rogers, said in a column on Monday, February 24: “There was no small level of discomfort in the newsroom. Many staffers thought the paper was obliged to find a consistent and supportable way to measure the size of crowds. Others were concerned that the paper was becoming a participant in the story, rather than simply telling it from a safe distance.”

The Chronicle photos represented a static moment in the demonstration, a very short period of time at around 1:30 p.m., not taking into account the large number of people coming and going during the many hours of the event. Perhaps the crowd counts of other large San Francisco events, such as Bay to Breakers or Gay Pride Day, are also going to be re-evaluated downward. But there were hard feelings in the anti-war movement. Bob Sarnoff’s count was 40 to 50 thousand, and he thinks there was unfortunately too much guesswork involved in it to call it accurate. A couple, volunteers for one of the coalition organizations, went up with cameras in a small plane, but sadly had to shoot their photos from too high an altitude to give a clear indication as to crowd size. So protesters had little information with which to contest the Chronicle’s claims.

Bill Hackwell wrote an opinion piece for the Chronicle, which ran February 25, in which he tried to help the movement come to terms with the controversy. He concluded his piece with a clarion call: “There are those who will try to interpret the Chronicle’s article on Friday as an indication of a stalling of the movement, but nothing could be farther from the truth. On the contrary, organizers were greatly encouraged and are moving on to the next step as the deadline for war looms: March 15 at San Francisco’s Civic Center. Once again, growing numbers of people – by whatever count – in the Bay Area are as committed as ever to holding up our end on the worldwide banner that says no to Bush’s war.” Hackwell told me that at a meeting of ANSWER activists mid-week, the discussion of the crowd count came to a natural end, as the business of organizing the next demo began in earnest.

It remains to be seen how the size of the March protest, and protests down the line, will be counted by the police, the mainstream media, the organizers, and the progressive media. The March protest could be the largest yet. The war against Iraq could start soon, which would take protest to another level. Bigger crowds could be the result. Mass civil disobedience, were it to materialize, would pose a whole other world of problems as far as the police and press are concerned, more grave than the complications addressed here. But one thing is for sure – in the recent series of large demonstrations in San Francisco, counting the crowd has become a conundrum.

§Chronicle OPEN FORUM: Counting demonstrators or momentum?
by Bill Hackwell, ANSWER Saturday Jan 14th, 2006 10:47 AM
Counting demonstrators or momentum?
- Bill Hackwell
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Over the weekend of Feb. 15-16, in more than 600 cities and towns around the world, more than 20 million people linked arms in a vast tide of resistance against Washington's rush to war.

Here in California, about 150,000 people took part in demonstrations on Feb.

15 from Arcata to San Diego. Large numbers turned out in San Jose, Fresno, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and, in the largest anti-war protest that city has known since the Vietnam era, 100,000 people assembled in Los Angeles. The people who march represent thousands more who are against war but have not yet taken that step to protest.

Those who do come vote with their feet, and they deserve to be counted. Supporters of President Bush's war plans attempt to downplay the size of the protests. Bush tried to dismiss the millions in the streets as a mere "focus group." But these attempts to marginalize the anti-war movement have not been able to gloss over the impact it is having.

On Feb. 16, it was the Bay Area's turn to march, and once again tens of thousands turned out. Market Street, from Justin Herman Plaza to Civic Center, was filled for the third time in four months. In the customary rush for an immediate count, the media, including The Chronicle and the organizers alike, released a figure of 200,000. Even the San Francisco Police Department, which traditionally underestimates the size of anti-war protests, said there were 150,000 to 200,000.

But on Friday, in the lead article on the front page, The Chronicle lowered its crowd estimate to 65,000. The Chronicle had contracted Air Flight Service out of Santa Clara and used its aerial photos as evidence of the lower estimate. Air Flight Service (whose Web site notes that it also provides "air support" for military contractors such as Lockheed-Martin, Honeywell, General Dynamics and Bechtel), used a grid-counting methodology that captured only one static moment in a day of fluid movement. This method failed to account for the number of people who came and left during six hours of constant protest. Overhead photos shot at 11:30 a.m. (which can be viewed at, clearly show a greater density of people stretching down Market Street than at 1:45 p.m., the time of The Chronicle flyover.

While The Chronicle made an interesting attempt to verify numbers, it provided a drastically incomplete picture of the Feb. 16 event. But what was really lost in The Chronicle's focus on number reversal was the historic nature of these demonstrations and the major setbacks they have caused for the Bush administration's war plans. If it weren't for the anti-war movement both here and abroad, Bush's war on Iraq would have started months ago.

The numbers debate also ignores the real story of the heart and determination of those who come from all walks of life to try to stop this disaster. What is lost is the story of the coalescing of huge groups in growing numbers, ranging from labor unions, the American Indian Movement, the Chinese Progressive Association and interfaith organizations to environmentalists, immigrants, students, veterans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered organizations and others who make up the fabric of these protests.

Last week, the New York Times, in a front-page analysis, wrote, "The huge anti-war demonstrations this past weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion." It was a begrudging acknowledgment that the international anti-war movement is coming of age and growing in a dramatic fashion, all this before a new war against Iraq has even begun.

Feb. 16 was organized by four coalitions: ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Not in Our Name, United for Peace and Justice and Bay Area United Against War. These groups, representing hundreds of progressive organizations, came together to do everything in their power to stop the war.

There are those who will try to interpret The Chronicle's article on Friday as an indication of a stalling of the movement, but nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, organizers were greatly encouraged and are moving on to the next step as the deadline for war looms: March 15 at San Francisco's Civic Center. Once again, growing numbers of people -- by whatever count -- in the Bay Area are as committed as ever to holding up our end on the worldwide banner that says no to Bush's war.


-- To see a sampling of the photos The Chronicle used in revising its crowd count, go to:

Bill Hackwell is a Vietnam veteran and an organizer with ANSWER.

Page A - 19

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Arthur Anderson
Saturday Mar 1st, 2003 4:55 PM
The methodology that the Chronicle used is grossly inaccurate! The demonstration is OVERWHELMINGLY a fluid event, with people arriving and leaving at all sorts of different times -- with some participating in the march AND the rally, while others participate in only one or the other.

To calculate an estimate of a fundamentally fluid event from a STATIC photograph is either the height of ignorance, or an intentional ploy to reverse the rapidly buiding momentum against the war!

Yes, it's true that in the third paragraph of the article there is a brief acknowledgement of their methodological flaw, but the rest of the article is so overwhelmingly focused on explaining and defending their "innovative technique" that they have no problem completely missing the forest for the trees -- they totally fail to account for the dynamic nature of the event, and therefore the article must be classified much more as propaganda than as a "scientific study", which it obviously attempts to convey.

It is not at all unreasonable to calculate that many tens of thousands of people who were on the march (or who went directly to the rally) then went (off-site) to grab something to eat, or to do other things, with many of course still intending to return to the rally.

If there actually were 65,000 people in the general rally area at 1:45 p.m., as the article claims, then it is certainly not beyond belief to estimate that 35,000 who had already partcipated in some way had already "left", as described above. That brings the tally to 100,000 -- and if we allow for a 20% undercount in their basic technique, that brings the tally to 120,000.

Then there are all of the many thousands who just happened to have arrived after 1:45 p.m., including perhaps a third of the march which had yet to arrive in the rally area. A third of 120,000 is 40,000, and if we add another 30,000 who skipped the march and went directly to the rally after 1:45 p.m., than we are now at 190,000!

Another way to look at this is to use concept of "turn-over". For example, a restaurant may have room for just 100 diners, but they are able to serve 300 people every evening. How do they do it? Because each table "turns over" an average of three times an evening! (Some dine at 5:15 p.m., others at 6:30 p.m., and still others at 7:45 p.m., etc.).

So if the main rally area also was able to "turn over" three times during the day (with some people there at 12:45 p.m., others there at 1:45 p.m., and still others at 2:45 p.m.), then you can multiply the Chronicle's estimate of 65,000 times 3 and arrive at 195,000 as a more accurate figure! (And that doesn't even take into account those who participated in the march, but "dropped out" without ever reaching the rally!).

Don't believe the Chronicle's "pseudo-science" propaganda piece -- at least 150,000 people participated in the demonstration, and probably closer to the organizer's final estimate of 200,000!

by pro-protester
Saturday Mar 1st, 2003 5:05 PM
a military contractor wouldn't have any reason to lie about the number of people protesting against war. gee whiz i dunno how anyone could think such a thing! golly! we should trust all military contractors, mmmk? if they say the pic was taken at a certain time, it was.

a corporate newspaper wouldn't have any reason to lie about the number of people protesting their ... er i mean, a war.

gosh, golly, gee whiz! where's yer head at?

by bov
Saturday Mar 1st, 2003 7:28 PM
It's great to hear some of the behind the scenes stuff. I'd called around to find out who was going to put a plane or helicopter up before J18 and got wrong and varied answers, so I wondered what the real story had been.

I know someone who was using a technique of counting people going by per minute and standing in one place. His estimate was well over 65k.

I also wrote a long letter to Dick Rogers about his article which tries to simply placate the peace marchers by saying it wasn't a rock solid technique - too late, it already made the headlines, Dick!

But I'll never ever pay a cent for that paper again.
by anii
Saturday Mar 1st, 2003 10:44 PM
I got the "Comicle", and using their grid system, came up with a minimum of 52,000 people at Civic Center alone, not counting the marchers still in the streets. It is amazing that they can not be bothered to count correctly using their own system!!!!!!!! But it doesn't support their agenda, which they paid for. This paper is a joke, a sad little puppet.
by skippy
Saturday Mar 1st, 2003 11:07 PM
Looks like an average turn out for allstar wrestling or the truck pulls to me. I think the Quiot Riot comeback tour garnered bigger crowds. Get some perspective. You are not mainstream, and you don't want to be mainstream.
by bov
Sunday Mar 2nd, 2003 7:03 PM
I guess Skippy knows what we are and what we aren't, since he's the omnicent peanut butter jar.
by Sidney Duck
Sunday Mar 2nd, 2003 9:55 PM
I thought Skippy was a bush kangaroo.
by Gaffes
Sunday Mar 2nd, 2003 10:42 PM
"To calculate an estimate of a fundamentally fluid event from a STATIC photograph is either the height of ignorance, or an intentional ploy to reverse the rapidly buiding momentum against the war! "

This quote is a false dilemna; there are many other reasons for calculating from a static photograph. One of which is the fact that no-one really gives a damn how many people were protesting the war. A more important, and revealing, number would be the count of people at the demonstration that could intelligently discuss the Iraq situation and examine their strongly held opinions with a measure of critical thinking skills.
by cp
Monday Mar 3rd, 2003 12:01 PM
In fact, that isn't the crucial number. Conservatives want it both ways - David Horowitz and Bill O'Reilly et al. are always pretending they have the working class behind them, and criticizing people in academia and with graduate degrees who are more likely than the average citizen to oppose the war in Iraq, saying that this is an elitist opinion, and what really matters is the opinion of the majority. Then to turn around and voice an opposite position, that educated and enlightened people should make decisions in a constitutional republic, a position endorsed by conservatives when they enacted literacy tests for black people and poor whites in the south, or required property ownership and correct demographic characteristics in the century before that, or required a poll tax as Thatcher wanted in England, would be hypocritical. It doesn't matter how pedigreed someone is, but in a democracy each person's vote should count equally. And a democracy is not simply a country where people vote for a ruler every four years - a large part of it is continual instruction to delegates as to how the government should behave.
by Elizabeth
Monday Mar 3rd, 2003 1:47 PM
What counts as legitimate "continual instruction to delegates as to how the government should behave"? Should the fact that the vast majority of Americans participate happily in a capitalist orgy demonstrate anything as to how government should behave? Mass consumption of oil products? Mob rule will not legitimate your cause, it will, and does, legitimate corporate America.

Demonstrations are for real players, labor, who have something to contribute, and thus withhold, not the spoiled dim witted children of the middle class. A clutch of snot nose middle class kids with zero economic clout will make no difference. Demonstrations without work strike, economic harm have no teeth, and it is pretty tough to throw your weight around when you are living on federal student loans or otherwise contribute nothing to the system you want to harm. Hence your blac block buddies puerile resort to the same kind of violence you are protesting.

Fantasies aside, you are not directing government conduct. This is not a direct democracy, on purpose,and thank God for that. At best you are threatening to withhold votes at the next election, and Bush knows he has mainstream, majority support. Even Hillary Clinton knows that.

You kids can talk labor talk, but you can't walk labor walk because you don't bring anything to the table but student loan debt.
by Colorado
Monday Mar 3rd, 2003 8:42 PM
If someone can get estimates as to the dimensions of the roads shown in the various pictures, we could use some simple calculus to determine our own number. I can assure you, however, that it would be far more than 65,000 no matter what we come up with. Without the dimensions of the roads and of that park in front of the Mayoral building, I can't come up with a specific figure. But I can't picture less than 100,000 people as being in that picture. If more than 60,000 people can fit on the Golden Gate Bridge (as estimates state and simple math can back up), then there sure as hell was at least 100,000 at this protest.
by Scottie
Monday Mar 3rd, 2003 10:06 PM
Dont worry you wont be consuming the majority of the worlds resourses for long.
Asia is going to whoop your ass. And then whatever you do will be academic. You can be for peace or war or environment or not and it wont make a hairs worth of difference.
Europe on the other hand will continue to decline.
Overhead photos for Feb 16 2003 march, followed by maps, and links to Jan 18 2003 overhead photos, crowd size comments, etc..

San Francisco Chronicle article and detailed discussion and debate about calculating crowd sizes.

History of recent overhead photos for antiwar marches in San Francisco. Another discussion and debate about crowd sizes, San Francisco Chronicle articles, etc..

President Bush’s Ratings Fall Sharply. Poll taken before and during protests worldwide. "results of The Harris Poll®, a nationwide telephone survey conducted by Harris Interactive® among a sample of 1,010 adults, from February 12 to 16, 2003." Ratings will fall farther when a poll is taken AFTER the worldwide protests.
by A war hater
Tuesday Mar 4th, 2003 7:29 AM
An accurate account of numbers is important.however I question the term "body count". An" information war"seems also less effective than dialoging on real ideas with the goal of creating the next superpower-"world global opinion"!
by double
Tuesday Mar 4th, 2003 6:55 PM
I read things like "blowback" and the like when making reference to 911 and why the US was attacked. Now, if those holding that position want to stay consistent, since there is no defense against terrorism, then certainly the right thing for these other countries to do who are being "terrorized" by the US would be to simply appease us, not to wage war against us, to band together and stop any group from conducting any war-type action against the US. But alas, for some reason "blowback", not appeasement, was something we should have expected.
by bump
Wednesday Mar 5th, 2003 6:58 AM
Back to the top.

And for good reason. This needs to be answered. You have a very general statement like the below:

>There is no defense against terrorism. A determined terrorist will *always* get through.<

This was made in reference to terrorists performing their duties here on the USA mainland, but there's no quantifier here. If this is true, then it is true on a universal scale. You can't say this is only true for the USA in the particular situation we are in now. Either there is no defense against a determined terrorist, or their is.

Given that, and given there are those here who call the USA the worst exporter of terrorism in the world, then it would behoove those who are the victims of US terrorism to abide by the same suggestion we are told that we should follow regarding those who would perform terrorism againt the US. That is, there is no defense, and to retialiate against the US will not help them if we are determined to carry out terrorist attacks. Yet, we're told that "blowback" is something we should have expected. So in the same way, if every American is being placed in danger because of this war, then every muslim is being placed in danger for what bin Laden and Saddam and those of like mind are doing to Americans and our interests. So I would say to the muslim world that they need to put the brakes on the mullahs and clerics and leaders who are preaching for them to hate America and to attack and destroy America in the same manner it is being suggested that we stop those on the US side who would wage war. And, if we should have expected "blowback", then they have to expect the same in return. Even if its retialiation of a retialiation of a retialition of a retialiation. Because remember, a determined terrorist will find a way to carry out their mission.

And on a side issue, this whole idea that terrorists will forgo carrying out their plans if we don't attack Saddam is full of holes. If there are terrorists cells in the country just waiting for us to attack Saddam, that moment being their cue to move forward, then one would have to believe that they were trained, funded, the proper materials were smuggled in or otherwise obtained, and should nothing ever happen for the next 100 years, they are being told just to sit on it, to do nothing. I can't believe they would go to all the trouble they did just to sit on it.
by Jim G
Wednesday Mar 5th, 2003 9:17 AM
Letter exchange from the last week of February 2003 between local statitician and SF Chronicle news reps:
(start at bottom and read up...)

From: Jim G.
Sent: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 2:39 PM
To: readerrep [at]
Subject: RE: Please investigate and correct

Dear Mr. Rogers (Senior Chronicle Editor),

Mr. Wyatt Buchanan's article headline stated "Aerial study casts doubt on estimates of 200,000". These 200,000 estimates made by police AND organizers were NOT peak estimates. They were full day estimates. The 65,000 was The Chronicle's peak estimate and Mr. Buchanan compared his "peak" to the "full day" estimate of 200,000. Apples vs Oranges. This was not stated clearly. So, the 200,000 number really isn't in doubt. And neither is the 65,000 number - which I totally agree with. However, the article puts them at odds. This needs to be corrected. This reporting either intentionally or negligently misleads, and has no business in my local newspaper.

You don't think that Chronicle readers, if polled, would say that the march had 65,000 marchers? Again, if there is a next time, I'd like to know the FULL day count. Try using sample polling methods combined with those BART/Muni turnstyle numbers and you'll get pretty close to the number of participants throughout the day.

Thanks again,
Jim G.


-----Original Message-----
From: readerrep [mailto:readerrep [at]]
Sent: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 2:19 PM
To: Jim G.
Subject: RE: Please investigate and correct


I've already forwarded your thoughts to the senior editors. One point of
clarification, however: The aerial photos weren't taken at the end of the
event. They were taken at 1:45 p.m. -- the point at which the organizers
assert the crowd was at its peak. And the paper did not claim that the
65,000 figure was a statistically accurate figure for the entire day. It was
pretty careful to qualify that point. I believe that many people took the
story to say it represented the entire day, however.

Dick Rogers

-----Original Message-----
From: Jim G.
Sent: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 2:15 PM
To: readerrep [at]
Subject: RE: Please investigate and correct

Dear Mr. Rogers,

Thank you. I hope in the coming days we'll see a follow-up front page story
pointing to the shortcomings of the article we are addressing in agreement.
I was very scientific in my methods, and I stayed the full day to count. I
did not come in the last few minutes of a 4 hour party/march and claim that
what I saw and photographed at that moment was the statistically accurate
number of attendees throughout the entire day.

One of my methods for calculation (I came up with 200,000 in more than just
one way) was to poll a sample of the crowd to see what percentage came via
BART. This brings your wishful turnstyle theory into a reality!! Mr.
Buchanan's article pointed that the difference in BART "exits" in downtown
SF from the previous "average" Sunday was 43,000 riders. My random sampling
of the crowd had between "1 in 8" and "1 in 12" taking BART to downtown SF
for the march. If just half of the increase in BART ridership to downtown
SF that day was due to marchers, that would be 20,000. And given the ratios
I polled from the crowd of, say, "1 BART rider for every 8 march participants",
that would put the crowd at 160,000.

The police estimate is usually an underestimate, and I was afraid the
organizers would claim some astronomical number. But, again 200,000 seems
to me to be about right, though, now because of The Chronicle's front page
article, the millions of folks around the Bay who were NOT present truly
believe that 65,000 was the exact head count! This is either yellow
journalism or careless reporting, and needs to be corrected immediately.

Please use more scientific methods next time. You don't need to hire a
helicopter to do this, just your head. And hiring an actuary or two for the
entire day couldn't hurt.

Thanks for listening,
Jim G


-----Original Message-----
From: readerrep [mailto:readerrep [at]]
Sent: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 12:20 PM
To: Jim G.
Subject: RE: Please investigate and correct


Your thoughtful message came my way. I plan to forward it to the senior
editors who will direct coverage of the next march. Your point about
determining the crowd turnover and the peak of the event are both valid. In
the case of our story, we relied on the march organizers to tell us when the
peak occurred. That method has its flaws, clearly. I can't say whether the
paper will commit to all-day flyovers during the next event. There's a
significant cost attached and that will be a decision for someone with a
closer responsibility for the budget than I have.

The matter of turnover is intriguing. I like you approach of measuring the
approximate speed of the crowd for the duration and using that as a guide to
how often people may have replaced others. As you'd no doubt agree, that
doesn't account for everyone who may have come and gone because people can
enter and leave the event at any point.

As I mentioned in print the other day, I'm not sure there ever will be a
reliable number for events such as these until people have to go through
turnstiles to attend. Having said that, I think that ideas such as yours are
valid and worthwhile ways to try to get closer to satisfactory answers.

Thanks for taking the time to offer your suggestions. They'll be in the
editor's inbox well before the next march.

Dick Rogers
Readers' Representative
San Francisco Chronicle
readerrep [at]
(415) 777-7870

-----Original Message-----
From: Jim G.
Sent: Monday, February 24, 2003 1:12 PM
To: chronfeedback [at]
Cc: readerrep [at]
Subject: Please investigate and correct

To Whom It May Concern,

I sent this to your staff editor, Wyatt Buchanan earlier today. He was nice
enough to respond to my initial concerns over and article he wrote,
appearing on the front page of The Chronicle last Friday. I appreciate his

I would like The Chronicle to research the errors made in his reporting
(some of which I have pointed out below), make corrections to the
erroneous/misleading numbers reported, and share with readers immediately.

Also, I would ask that better reporting be done next time, taking into
consideration that an accurate headcount in the last fews minutes of an
event does not have any relation to how many people attended an event,
whether the event was a few hours or a few days long. If you looked down on
a Pac*Bell crowd in the ninth inning and counted, would this accurately
report the number of folks who came and went from innings 1 through 8?

This reporting, and all future reporting, needs to be reviewed for accuracy
before going on the front page of a newspaper I highly respect.

Thank you.

Jim G.


-----Original Message-----
From: Jim G.
Sent: Monday, February 24, 2003 12:32 PM
To: 'Wyatt Buchanan'
Subject: RE: Earliest aerial photos taken show a larger crowd

Dear Mr. Buchanan,

Thank you for your quick response. I appreciate the photos taken by your
helicopter. I am just hopeful that, should this be done again by you (or
others) at future marches, your aerial photos might be taken as early as
possible, before folks begin gathering, and continuously throughout the time
of the event - and then reviewed.

It appears that the photos in The Chronicle, while very accurate, were taken
at the end of "the party" after most guests who marched (and didn't continue
to Civic Center Plaza) left the event. I sat in my office for the SOLE
purpose of counting the crowd, after the media (local and national) reported
fairly disparate numbers of marchers (if they reported on the marches at
all) in earlier historic protests here.

I am a statistician concerned with accurate crowd counts, whatever the
occassion. So, I did polling in the crowd in front of my building to see
where folks were from, and how they got to downtown, and I had people who I
personally knew - with their cell phones - out in the crowd at different
points (times & locations). I found that about half of the crowd didn't
travel very far, as they were San Francisco residents, and much of the rest
(from the North Bay, peninsula, and East Bay) drove into the City to
participate, before moving onto other activities outside SF. About 1 in 8
of those I questioned took BART in from the East Bay or from Daly City.

I feel you needed to dig deeper in your reporting - and into the crowd, and
didn't, causing the wide difference in the numbers.

My overhead count used density methods, times, distances, and speeds, as
well as visual. I *completely* agree with you that at precisely 1:45pm,
there were indeed 65,000 folks in total either on Market Street or in the
Civic Center Plaza. But, as you know, this does not mean that 65,000 were
present throughout the day, and you don't state this anywhere in your front
page article. I stand by my crowd estimates and calculations of 200,000
(+/- 20,000), and I feel my vantage point was much more accurate than your
editor's who counted at street level.

Would it be possible at the next march (if there is one), that you get
aerial photos at hourly intervals? I had folks out in the crowd, moving
with the crowd, to find out the speed of the flow of marchers - contacting
me via cell phone. I calculated individuals were moving at least 1.8 miles
per hour, which means a 100% crowd turnover every hour. This is why I feel
your numbers from 1:45pm were the same in number (but totally different
crowd) at 12:45pm in the same space - and these 12:45pm marchers were the
same in number (but again a totally different crowd) at 11:45am in this same

I think you may have underestimated the crowd due to the limited information
you received from photos taken late in the day and the one (?) editor you
had counting at ground level (where you explained to me the view can be

Lastly, I run in Bay to Breakers every year, and I felt that the crowd that
fed onto Market from 11am to 1pm during the Feb 16 march was much greater
than the 80,000 or so that the Examiner claims run in Bay to Breakers. Much
greater. (And louder too - as the occasional roars that washed over the
crowd seemed louder than that at a Niners game).

Please investigate this further, and ask the police, Muni, etc... to help
you... and make sure any adjustments are reported to your readers. I'd like
to know that The Chronicle is reporting the most accurate info, especially
if the story is important enough to make front page headlines, as was yours.

Thanks, and while I know numbers, I am not a writer, so please excuse any
grammatical errors in my statements.

A Chronicle reader,
Jim G.
soulsurfvivor [at]


-----Original Message-----
From: Wyatt Buchanan [mailto:WBuchanan [at]]
Sent: Monday, February 24, 2003 11:05 AM
To: Jim G.
Subject: RE: Earliest aerial photos taken show a larger crowd

Jim --

Thanks for your feedback. I know the crowd looks huge in your photos. It
does in all photos taken from oblique angles, where you can't see the spaces
between marchers. (The photo we ran on the front page where the street looks
absolutely full was taken at the same time as the fly over pictures used for
the survey. It's amazing how different the crowd looks from different

We also had an editor out counting the crowd from Montgomery between 11 and
2. That number is only an estimation, but it seems to be the same crowd you
photographed. She came up with 50,400 people. I understand the 65,000 is
shocking compared to 200,000, but the police and protester estimations
cannot be used as a basis for counting. If one could come up with 200,000
independent of the police/protester estimates, I would be interested to hear

Wyatt Buchanan

-----Original Message-----
From: Jim G.
Sent: Friday, February 21, 2003 1:26 PM
To: wbuchanan [at]
Subject: Earliest aerial photos taken show a larger crowd

Dear Mr. Buchanan,

I took the following photos from my office [see link below] two and half
hours before your aerial photos. I did this for the very reason of accurate
crowd counts, as I am a statistician and felt that the "few thousand" number
reported by the national media after last month's march was inaccurate.

I took the photos between 11:20am and 11:25am on Sunday, February 16th, from
my office at 525 Market Street (at First).

It appears there must have been an entirely different crowd (from the photos
you have) marching up Market that began just after the 11am hour. Those who
stepped off at 11am should have made it to 7th and Market before noonAnd
those who stepped off at noon should have made it to 7th and Market by 1pm -
and many, it appears, did not proceed to Civic Center.

As far as I know, there was no break in the 3 hours of marchers. Also,
there was a substantial rally at the Civic Center before the 11am hour for
those who couldn't walk 2 miles. All your photos were taken much later in
the day - showing literally the tail-end of the marchers at 1:45pm.

This would seem to indicate the number of people who participated in the
march up Market to be 2 to 3 times what your Chronicle article today
purports. I felt the 200,000 count was accurate (+/- 10%). I also felt
Sunday's crowd was slightly smaller than the January 18th march and rally.
This crowd I estimated in January was 220,000 to 240,000.

Please analyze and correct. Also, please contact me for questions.

Photos I gave to the Independent Media:

Thank you.

Jim G.
by non-subscriber
Wednesday Mar 5th, 2003 2:38 PM
Thanks Jim G for the effort you are putting into this.

Another aspect to consider: Apparently, the DAY BEFORE the "65,000" story in the Chron, an article appeared there announcing that several editors were leaving and others were being promoted to take their places.

A calculated political shift? My sister, who subscribes to the Chron, thinks that there has been a shift (further) to the right since then.

Remember when Stephanie Salter was stripped of her regular column just before the last September 11th tributes? Maybe the guys responsible for this were promoted.
by Colorado
Wednesday Mar 5th, 2003 6:38 PM
Dang, how'd you even find out who it was that did the statistics on that report? I'm impressed! This movement definately can use more people like you, who can find out the source of what's going on. I only wish I knew how to do the same. =)
by Surfin' Sam
Friday Mar 7th, 2003 9:43 AM
In addition to the direct harm done throughout the Bay Area (and to a lesser extent elsewhere) by the initial Chronicle story, to make things much, much worse, both AP and UPI did stories on what the Chronicle had done -- saying (of course) that 65,000 was the real number!

The AP story was picked up by the San Jose Mercury News, the Orange County Register, the Kansas City Star, the Duluth (MN) News Tribune, the Fort Wayne (IN) Journal Gazette, the Akron (OH) Beacon Journal, the Austin (TX) American Statesman, the New Orleans
Times Picayune, the Columbus (GA) Ledger-Enquirer, the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, FL, and at least a dozen other newspapers! ABC News, CNN, and even the Guardian of London also used the AP story! (The AP story is copied below, from the San Jose Mercury News website).

The UPI story apparently wasn't used as widely, but at a minimum, the Washington (DC) Times did use it. (The UPI story, on their website, is at: ).

FOX News and Rush Limbaugh also picked up on the story, as did columnists with the Menlo Park Almanac and the Tallahassee (FL) Democrat.

And more recently, Yahoo News and USA Today have been using the 65,000 figure as the day's attendance! (To see the depressing flood of links to the dozens of stories cited above, go to: ).

The Chronicle is responsible for causing a credibiliity nightmare for the peace movement -- not just in the Bay Area, but also throughout the nation! The owe us on this, bigtime!


San Jose Mercury News

Posted on Fri, Feb. 21, 2003

Aerial photographs show number of protesters below estimates

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO - An aerial survey of Sunday's anti-war protest in San Francisco showed the number of attendees was around 65,000 people - not the 150,000 to 200,000 estimated by organizers and police.

The survey, commissioned by the San Francisco Chronicle and, used a series of high-resolution aerial photos. They showed that during the protest's peak, at about 1:45 p.m. Sunday, there were approximately 65,000 people in attendance.

Although the number cannot account for protesters who left before that time or those who showed up later, experts say such a survey is more accurate than visual scan methods used by police and organizers.

"After hearing concerns from our readers about our accuracy in reporting crowd size in demonstrations, we were determined to come up with a better method to calculate the number of people who turn out for such events," said Chronicle Executive Editor Phil Bronstein.

When told of The Chronicle's numbers, police and organizers stood by their estimates.

"Come on, that's ridiculous," said Bill Hackwell, spokesman for International ANSWER, one of the groups that organized Sunday's protest.

Greg Suhr, the San Francisco deputy police chief who calculated the police figure, agreed.

"I can tell you for a fact that's an enormously low number," he said, adding that the stands alone in San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park hold 40,000 people.

"The crowd at Pac Bell would pale in comparison to the crowd on Sunday," Suhr said.

Police estimates were based on the 43,000 people that Civic Center Plaza is estimated to hold and previous estimates of crowd sizes on Market Street. The roadway and sidewalk had about 100,000 people on them, Suhr said.

A media scholar said such doubts are to be expected.

"The number of people (in a crowd) is a mythical number, and now you're going to turn it into a fact, and that won't be welcomed," said Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. "There's an old saying in journalism: People only see what they believe. This is an emotional issue, not a factual issue, as far as most people are concerned."

To get the 65,000 estimate, the photographs taken from 2,000 feet were overlaid with a grid. Each grid was evaluated and assigned a density of people from 10 to 100 percent full. Most were judged at 25 percent to 50 percent full.

This was the first time Air Flight Service, which has 20 years experience in taking photographs for topographical maps for government agencies and private companies, has used its equipment for crowd estimation.

Peace rally organizers based their number on comparisons to a Jan. 18 rally that they said drew 150,000 to 200,000. Sunday's protest was similar is size, Hackwell said.

Police originally estimated there were 50,000 people at that Jan. 18 march, but revised that figure later based on how many people could fit into Civic Center Plaza, the crowd that spilled out onto the side streets and the movement of the crowd up Market Street, police spokesman Neville Gittens said.

In other cities around the world on Saturday crowd estimates were based on the average number of people in one area expanded to cover the whole route.

In London, police used helicopters to estimate crowds - 750,000 marchers in the streets and more than 1 million at Hyde Park. Italy's national police force - the Carabinieri - estimated 700,000 people protested, based on the capacity of the piazzas where the demonstrations happened and counting four people per square meter during the march, according to an e-mail from a police spokesman.