End the Mandate Banner in Winthrop. Photo by C. Creighton.

I reported on both local anti-mandate protests that occurred recently, and I was there for all or most of the duration of the demonstrations. Later, when reading the Methow Valley News’s interpretation of the events, article archived here, I was struck by the significant discrepancy between the reported numbers of attendees. For the Winthrop protest, I reported that over 60 people attended, and their reporter claimed it was a dozen. You’d think that – even if we approach the event from different angles – that maybe one thing that we could come close on is objective numbers – such as how many people were there at a demonstration. A dozen, and five dozen are not really interchangeable. If they were, imagine sending someone out for donuts! Still, there’s a lot of variables that go into such a count. I knew how I got my numbers, and I wanted to find out how the local paper arrived at their reported numbers.

Maybe the MVN’s reporters only counted people who were holding signs, and not those who also turned out and were standing near them in support but didn’t have time to make a sign. That was a possible explanation, and a reasonable hypothesis where the numbers would line up a lot closer together.

Last Thursday, I called MVN's office and talked to the reporter who wrote their article, Natalie Johnson. I wanted to get details about how MVN and its reporters counted people at demonstrations and what their criteria was.

Ms Johnson became very defensive when I brought up why I was calling, and the discrepancy I noted in their reported protester numbers, versus the count that I did. She then scornfully said, “Well, one of us can’t count”.

Ms Johnson did clarify that MVN reporters just do a count at whatever time they are there, and it is not restricted to just the people holding signs. She said she did her Winthrop demonstration count "just before noon". Noon was the scheduled end time for that protest. Another reporter had done the Twisp demonstration count on Saturday – at an unknown time – and passed the number of “about three dozen” along to Ms Johnson for her article.

My photos from the Winthrop demonstration taken shortly before 11:45am, show about 35 people easily visible there at that time. I did see Natalie Johnson there taking photos and talking with an organizer, roughly around 11:45am. The demonstration organizer that she had talked to, Kim Frey, later described Ms Johnson as trying to advocate for the pro side of the vaccine and mandate issues, at the same time that she was trying to interview someone who was on the other side. Frey said that, during the interview, Ms Johnson became exasperated and suddenly walked away without a word.

Perhaps Ms Johnson’s Winthrop photos she took earlier contain a more accurate picture of the number of people that were there than her count shortly before noon. However, there’s something else that I noticed while I was there. The Winthrop protest didn’t break up quickly at noon and went fairly well past the scheduled end time. I was involved in talking to a small group of participants, but I checked the time at about 12:20pm and was surprised at the number of people still there. I can say that shortly after noon, there were at least 2 dozen people still standing around with signs and still looking like a cohesive group of protesters. I didn’t leave until after the event had really broken up after about 12:40pm.

I’ll disclose how I arrived at my own crowd numbers and my counting criteria. In what was apparently the peak attendance of the Winthrop demonstration, just after 11:30am, I walked through the group on the bridge and personally counted fifty-eight (58) people participating there and in the immediate vicinity, but not including babies or toddlers. I added a handful of people who I knew were there earlier, or saw leaving just as I arrived. This is how I arrived at my reported count of “over 60 people”.

For the Twisp demonstration, reported by the MVN as “about three dozen”, I personally counted sixty-five people in attendance just after the scheduled halfway point of the event. In talking with several organizers, they had estimated that about another 40 people had attended and left during the first half of the event. I reported the total but didn’t break out those numbers in the article, and in retrospect, I should have clarified that.

Perhaps in the future, MVN reporters should remember to count participants in an event well before that event ends. Taking wide photos earlier could also help with this. Also, when interviewing someone that you don’t personally agree with, it is probably not the time for you to interject your own beliefs and advocate for your own viewpoint. I do hope that between my reports and those of the MVN reporters, together we can provide an accurate picture of some important events happening in the valley for those interested but that were not able to be there themselves.

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