National Parks Service Inauguration Estimate Fraud

Last week the National Parks Service released their “official crowd estimate” for the inauguration – the figure that will officially be used when “referring to the inauguration in the future”. Shockingly, in doing so they ignored all scientific, satellite and expert analysis and instead chose to simply “use a Washington Post account that said 1.8 million people gathered on the U.S. Capitol grounds”. This figure is considerably higher than any analysis based on actual data from the event.

The National Parks Service ‘official’ estimate is the one that shall be utilized for all eternity by the media, in textbooks and so forth. Hence it is of the utmost importance that they get it right and it is based on evidence. I have not been able to locate any commentary on what I believe is a major scandal, so I shall present the data here.

I start by nothing that the accuracy of this inauguration estimate is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is the obvious question of whether it broke Lyndon B. Johnston’s record of 1.2 million attendees. Secondly, an overly high estimate fuels the ‘popular mandate’ narrative that has been constructed by the media, making meaningful and well reasoned opposition to his plans almost impossible. Finally, there’s this quaint little notion ‘truth’ I perhaps naively still think important.

Let us now begin our review of the evidence.

Prior to inauguration Democratic politicians tried to whip up a frenzy about incoming crowds, with estimates as high as  four (Senator Dianne Feinstein) or even five million (DC Mayor Adam Fenty ensuring a nice amount of Federal funding for DC).

Immediately following the Inauguration, the Washington Post reported 2 million people attended, quoting an “unnamed security official”. It seems that this was almost immediately downgraded to 1.8 million, the number used in subsequent reports, and as such it is is a fair assumption that the 2 million figure was a rounding up of this same estimate). This was soon adopted by DC Mayor Adam Fenty – hardly a bastion of credibility given his previous wild claims!

In contrast, the Associated Press used numerous crowd photographs to estimate the number at one million.

By Wednesday, a number of independent analysies started coming in, most based on GeoEye-1, the world’s highest resolution commercial Earth-imaging satellite, which can collect images sharp enough to “see the home plate on a baseball diamond“.

Prominent defense & intelligence analysts IHS Jane’s  stated that:

“After measuring the size and analyzing the density of the crowd populations in the image taken by the GeoEye-1 satellite at 11:19 a.m. East Coast Time, we have concluded that there are between 1.031 million and 1.411 million people present.”

“This does not include the assumed 240,000 people in the designated ticketholder areas.  If all ticketholders are present, the number increases to 1.271 – 1.651 million people.”

CNN utilized this report averaging it to 1.5 million.

Other analysts viewed the photo and came up with different results. Professor Stephen Doig, from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication estimated 800,000 – and later reports put his estimate as low as 750,000.

Clark McPhail, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Illinois used satellite analysis to result in one million attendees.

Another estimate was provided by Carl Holmberg, former Assistant Chief of U.S Park Police, who estimated 1 million people at the mall, and a further 200,000 along the parade route (methodology unknown).

The critical thing here is that ALL after the fact estimates based  on satellite imagery – the most accurate kind – and expert analysis found a number considerably smaller than what shall be the ‘official’ account – based solely on an anonymous official and correlated only by the biased and unreliable Adrian Fenty.

I am happy to be corrected if my analysis is incorrect in any way, but it seems to me that by unquestioningly adopting the Washington Post’s version of events, and ignoring all evidence of smaller crowds, the US Parks Service has abrogated its duty not only to current taxpayers, but to history. This is more than a simple act of irresponsibility: it is a fraud on history.

The NPS MUST re-examine the issue before record 1.8 million crowds enters national folklore.

On another note, Nielson released the following TV viewership numbers:

Obama Inauguration: 37.8 million viewers
Reagan Inauguration: 41.8 million viewers

Also interesting to note the ‘impartial’ media coverage of the event – Global Language Monitor reports the 2005 Inauguration received 1,000 stories. This year? over 35,000.

What a surprise.



4 Responses to “National Parks Service Inauguration Estimate Fraud”

  1. Natalie Says:

    What else do you expect though? History is always riddled with inaccuracies, blemished by the perspective of the creator of the source. One would hope that in the future, a person deeply interested in the Obama inauguration attendance numbers will be more discerning and examine multiple sources, such as what you have gleaned from the speculative analysis undertaken into the issue. And to the future layperson who will most likely take the authority’s reports of attendance numbers to be true, they are obviously not as intuitive about history and its traits as what they like to think.

  2. MDMConnell Says:

    Is it really that big a deal?

    History will judge Obama on how good his presidency was, not how many people turned up to see him sworn in. Reagan is remembered as a good president…who apart from a handful of historians would know or care how many people watched his inauguration? As for the ‘popular mandate’ stuff- that can and will quickly vanish if Obama starts to flounder and the economy slumps further.

  3. Tim Says:

    Is it that big a deal? Probably not. It just irks me.

    Although having said that, it certainly IS viewed as a big deal currently here in DC both in the media and in the general political atmosphere.

  4. paul andrews Says:

    As the father of “Tim” I must admitt he is a damm fine “blogger”. Keep up the great work… PTA

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