Easily outdoing attendance predictions and their own expectations this past weekend, Comedy Central’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” hosted by political comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rocked the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Produced as a satirical response to previous rallies, including Glenn Beck’s controversial “Rally to Restore Honor” in August, the Sanity/Fear event drew a massive crowd of Daily Show fans, activists, onlookers and voters.
Reports Jason Horowitz, Monica Hesse and Dan Zak in The Washington Post:
With midterm elections looming and Democrats bracing for a historic thumping, the two comedians reined in their three-hour show to nonpartisan bits, musical entertainment and gentle ribbing of the purported enemies of incivility. The denizens of the Capitol, visible behind the stage, escaped their usual excoriation.
But at the rally’s conclusion, Stewart changed his tone and his outfit. Having swapped a black T-shirt and blazer for a suit and tie, the comedian argued that the rally’s target was the caustic level of discourse in Washington, and its nasty echoes on cable television’s 24-hour news cycle. Stewart said that noisy debate obscured a reality that he perceived: that everyone throughout the country had found a way to work together.
“The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV,” said Stewart, putting much of the blame on Washington. In earnest terms that bordered on political rhetoric, he orated, “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”
The entire rally can be viewed at C-SPAN here.
Although the National Park Service no longer tallies crowd size for large events on the Mall – putting to rest a practice that became contentious in the wake of the 1995 Million Man March – CBS News commissioned an independent analyst who estimated nearly 215,000 attendants. Conservative groups and activist cried foul, arguing that Beck’s rally was larger and triggering a debate over who’s the bigger ratings draw: Beck or Stewart? Reports Brian Montopoli at CBSNews.com:
The company AirPhotosLive.com based the attendance at the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on aerial pictures it took over the rally, which took place on the Mall in Washington. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percent. (See some of the pictures used to create the estimate here.)
CBS News also commissioned AirPhotosLive.com to do a crowd estimate of Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in August. That rally was estimated to have attracted 87,000 people. Amid criticism from conservatives that the estimate was low, CBS News detailed the methodology behind it here.
The city’s Metro service reported that the rally helped break ridership records, with nearly 830,000 Metro trips that day.
Ryan Witt in The Examiner offers an interesting take, questioning whether the rally will spark a larger movement with Stewart as its leader:
When Stewart returns to television he is likely to return to more of his comedic routine as opposed to serious social commentary. Stewart [is] certainly established as more than just a comedian, but those hoping he will become the leader of a new political movement will probably be disappointed. Stewart will continue to provide his critique of the media, and provide some insightful interviews as usual, but a political leader he is not.