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‘LA Times’ defends using 44% lower crowd numbers than ‘March for Israel’

Some of the sources of those statistics and the scholars crunching the numbers have been very critical of Israel on social media.

Nearly 300,000 people attended the "March for Israel" rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2023. Photo by Shay Shohat/Flash90.
Nearly 300,000 people attended the "March for Israel" rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2023. Photo by Shay Shohat/Flash90.

The “March for Israel” rally brought more than 290,000 people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said from the podium during the Nov. 14 event. That made it the largest pro-Israel event in U.S. history, he added.

Daroff, whose group represents some 50 Jewish organizations, shared the tally while standing beside Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, which represents some 350 Jewish communities. Fingerhut did not contradict the number or offer a different estimate, and Daroff was quoted in the news saying that the 290,000 figure was based on magnetometers that security used at entrances to the event.

None of that impressed Talia Jane, “an independent reporter covering protests, social justice, policing and extremism.” Jane—who recently accused Israel of “doing war crimes in Lebanon” and wrote last year that anti-Zionism is “anti-racist, anti-oppressor, pro-people”—thinks that event organizers are often guilty of”lying for headlines” about attendance numbers.

“Hard to imagine this exceeded 30,000,” the frequent Israel critic said of the attendance at the Nov. 14 pro-Israel rally. In one of her social-media posts, Jane tagged the Crowd Counting Consortium, co-directed by Jeremy Pressman, professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, and Erica Chenoweth, professor of the First Amendment at Harvard Kennedy School.

Jane’s estimate of the crowd size—nearly 10% of that of the organizers—ended up being a data point in a story that made its way into The Los Angeles Times.

‘The consortium that gave us the data’

The general rule since Oct. 7 has been that rallies supporting Palestinians have been larger than pro-Israel ones, the Times reported on Nov. 21. An exception to that rule was “a Nov. 14 rally on the National Mall that attracted 160,000 people,” per the Times.

The story, by Jaweed Kaleem and Abhinanda Bhattacharyya—a national correspondent and a data and graphics journalist at the paper respectively—drew on data from the Crowd Counting Consortium. That data had limitations, the reporters wrote, noting that it arrived at crowd estimates “based on the average of the high and low estimates given in news coverage.”

Although the article referred to Israel’s “retaliatory bombardment of Gaza” that killed “more than 12,700 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry,” it did not note that the 160,000 figure it cited about the attendance of the pro-Israel gathering on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was nearly 45% less than the one that organizers shared during the event. It also didn’t note the 290,000 figure at all.

When JNS asked what happened to the 130,000 discrepancy, Kaleem, the national correspondent, responded: “We used averages of multiple crowd counts the same way the consortium that gave us the data did. The article explains that. The highest counts of the crowd, as you suggest, were 300,000+.”

‘Antisemitism has been emptied of meaning’

Hillary Manning, vice president of communications at The Los Angeles Times, referred JNS back to the article.

“The sourcing for the attendance statistics included in the LA Times story that you’ve asked about is explained in the story,” she said. “It says, in part, that the data is from ‘the Crowd Counting Consortium, a group run by researchers from Harvard and the University of Connecticut.'”

Manning did not respond to a question from JNS about how, to a casual reader, it might seem like the Times is more skeptical of a statistic that two of the most prominent U.S. Jewish organizations shared than it is regarding numbers provided by Hamas, which the United States has designated as a terrorist organization since 1997.

“My personal view is the media has a few options and it is up to them to decide,” Pressman, co-founder and co-director of the consortium, told JNS. “For example, a publication could offer one number (high, low, or other), offer multiple estimates [or] calculate an average of some sort.”

Pressman, who directs the Middle East studies program at the University of Connecticut, has posted about Israel extensively on social media, often very critically—as does Jane, whose posts the consortium has linked in its raw data on the “March for Israel.”

March for Israel
An estimated 300,000 attended the “March for Israel” rally in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2023. Credit: JNS.

“Through intentional misuse to blunt criticism of Israeli policy, the term antisemitism has been emptied of meaning,” Pressman wrote on Nov. 24.

The day after Hamas’s terror attack on Israel, Pressman wrote that the United States is repeating that Israel has a right to self-defense as if it had “no idea of underlying problem and offensive (not defensive) nature of Israeli occupation.”

Raw data

The most recent post on the consortium’s blog is from Nov. 6, but Manning, the Los Angeles Times vice president of communications, referred JNS to the consortium’s raw data, which it publishes on its site.

In its section on the Nov. 14 “March for Israel” rally, the consortium includes apparent tallies of attendance of “tens of thousands; close to 30,000; at least 200,000; nearly 300,000; close to 300,000, 20,000, 300,000, 160,000.”

The raw data also included the quotes, “images show crowd size in low to mid-tens of thousands, nowhere near claimed 300,000” and “students were offered micro-grants of $350 to cover expenses to attend.” (Jane is among those who have made these claims, and several of her social media posts are linked in the consortium’s raw data.)

“They were paying $250 to students to attend. That may have contributed to the incredibly low energy of the rally. Lots of young people just kinda standing or sitting. Not solemn,” she wrote. “I don’t know that I’ve ever covered a more unenthusiastic event.”

On X, Jane has some 26,200 followers. The Crowd Counting Consortium, which she tagged, has 1,328 followers. Their joint efforts to tally the numbers at a rally supporting a cause that they have criticized extensively wound up in the paper that bills itself as the “largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country,” with a combined print and online weekly audience of 4.4 million.

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