Hazy on number of masked Trump rally-goers in Tulsa? Media failed to zero in on the figure

Before President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa this past Saturday evening, I predicted that 2 percent of those in attendance would be wearing masks as a precaution against catching the COVID-19 coronavirus. (You can find my forecast here, on my “Go Figure: Making Numbers Count” page.)

Of the approximately 45 people in this frame, three are wearing masks–roughly the same proportion that I found in reviewing 20 photos that I took of the TV screen during Trump’s rally.

Having heard that the capacity was 20,000 at the BOK Center (it’s actually 19,200), I computed that 2 percent figure to amount to 400 folks. After all, the Trump team was trumpeting a crowd so packed that it was going to require Agent Orange to share remarks outdoors in addition to his indoor rally, so that he could acknowledge those who couldn’t get inside the arena.

Turns out, I was wrong on both counts—massively overestimating Trump’s drawing power and, to my happy surprise, underestimating his followers’ sense of caution.

Let’s examine the first data point: turnout.

According to the Associated Press, about one-third of the seats were empty, while The New York Times coverage offered that “at least” one-third of the arena seats went unfilled. The operative part of that phrase is “at least,” as Tulsa fire officials later provided an estimate that there were just under 6,200 attendees. That latter figure, if accurate, means that more than two-thirds of the arena was empty.

The Trump camp disputes those figures, saying that it was at least 12,000 people who came. At any rate, let’s move onto my masking estimate. It’s derived from a cross-section of 20 photographs that I took of my television when C-SPAN panned to the audience during the last hour of Trump’s nearly two-hour talk.

Of the roughly 375 people in the still images that I reviewed, 28 appear to have been wearing masks. It would have been 30, but one couple (below, to Trump’s left) had their masks dangling below their chins—there’s no telling whether they were masked for most of the event.

Those 28 (to 30) represent a roughly 7- to 8-percent masked rate. Even accounting for a margin of error from this unscientific sampling, it’s hard to imagine the figure dropping below 5 percent for the entire arena, let alone going as low as my pre-event 2 percent projection.

To mask or not to mask? Who cares, anyway?

Well, for one thing, it was one of the questions that served as a hot, controversial topic in the days leading up to Trump’s visit to Oklahoma, his first rally in 110 days. Public health officials urged the President not to hold the rally. Indeed, in the context of all sorts of daily life spaces, wearing a mask (or not) is a subject of intense interest and debate across the country.

Consequently, I would have expected that news media accounts would have gone beyond the cursory general observations about the proportion of people who wore masks.

Without a doubt, hats outnumbered masks–as did beards and other staples of Trump-mania.

Instead, we got this hazy accounting from The New York Times: “Many of the thousands of Trump supporters at the rally did not wear masks or stand six feet apart — health precautions that Mr. Trump himself has ignored.” 

And an equally unambitious excerpt from USA Today: “Most of the attendees at the rally were not wearing masks, nor were social distancing guidelines observed.”

“Many” and “most” fall far short of painting the picture: by my count, more than 9 out of 10, and perhaps as many as 19 out of every 20 individuals, was mask-less. But I was watching on TV—these publications had people on the scene.

To be clear, wearing a mask is no guarantee of safety. But there is broad medical consensus that doing so lowers the likelihood of transmission, particularly from the mask wearers to those around them. So, for as long as it is a public-health matter, enterprising journalists or other observers should take the effort to provide a more precise estimate of these gatherings as the Election 2020 campaign unfolds.

Vague phrasings such as “many” or “most” going without masks—or whatever the case may be at future Trump rallies—is just sloppy, lazy reporting. The same, simple arithmetical assignment goes for journalists covering presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign gatherings, whenever those may occur.

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‘A Beer With Baron’ Marathon Prompts a Round of Reflection

For over a decade, I have had the honor of interviewing some of the most fascinating, accomplished, all-around cool people who hail from Oak Park, Illinois, the community that has been my home for over 25 years.

Some guests I had the pleasure of knowing already; others–thanks to the show–I have been fortunate to get to know.

The past five years, the segment has been called “A Beer With Baron.” The first 10 BWB interviews were at BeerShop in Downtown Oak Park & the most recent one came at One Lake Brewing.

Lord willing, there are more rounds of interviews to come. Meantime, tonight at 7 p.m. local cable Channel 6 (which produces the show) is broadcasting a “Beer With Baron Marathon”–along with an “Oak Park’s Own” chaser featuring my Scoville Park interview of cartoonist Marc Stopeck.

Thank you, Village of Oak Park, Illinois, for this opportunity–especially VOP-TV Manager Joe Kreml, who conceived the show, makes all the magic happen and has scheduled this BWB Marathon.

You don’t need to get local Oak Park cable to see the clips, either. Below, in chronological order, are the 11 rounds of “A Beer With Baron” so far, plus the “Oak Park’s Own” segment with Marc Stopeck.

1. Chris Neville
When the beer began flowing, in July 2015, my first guest was the talented and thoughtful Chris Neville. My only regret is that he was clean-shaven at this point in his life–he’s got some of the best facial hair around these days as he rocks the world via Tributosaurus and other endeavors.

The Beer Clip:

2. Dave Revsine

Of all my BWB guests, the one I have known the longest is Dave Revsine, going back to our time together in college.

We were only acquainted then, but it’s been a pleasure to get to know Dave more in recent years, since his family moved to Oak Park after he became the studio anchor for the Big Ten Network.

In our chat, Dave talked about his excellent book, Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation. I had already read it by the time we spoke, and we could have gone for hours.

The Beer Clip:


3. Matthew James Collins

For this segment, I learned enough Italian to introduce the show in that beautiful language. Why? Because OPRF grad Matthew James Collins had lived in Italy for two decades by the time we bellied up to the BeerShop bar.

A world-renowned artist, Mr. Collins has been the only fellow Matt I have thus far welcomed onto the show.

The Beer Clip:

4. Donna Peel

One of my favorite people — and one of my favorite organizations, Pro Bono Network, which steps up and serves people who do not have the financial means to navigate the often-expensive legal system.

The Beer Clip:

5. Stephen Green

Before Spring Training 2017, Chicago Cubs team photographer Steve Green shared from his 2016 World Series experiences, along with many other anecdotes going back to the 1980s. Steve is my only “repeat” guest, as I interviewed him for “Oak Park’s Own” in 2009 when he had an exhibit at the Oak Park Public Library.

The Beer Clip:

Robert K. Elder

For this one, I sported a little Hemingway-esque facial hair, honoring my guest’s work on Hidden Hemingway. It’s one of many projects by Robert K. Elder, my ultimate Side Hustle inspiration.

And I promise this is just a coincidence and not any bias against other parental types: like two other early guests (Chris Neville and Dave Revsine), Rob is, like me, the dad of twins.

The Beer Clip:

7. Jamael “Isaiah Makar” Clark
With the one and only Isaiah Makar, an Oak Park and River Forest graduate and “artrepreneur” who is blazing a trail as a speaker, trainer, and mentor, among other roles.

The Beer Clip


8. Kelly Richmond Pope:

The Renaissance Woman: Kelly Richmond Pope, who is a forensic accountant, DePaul professor, and director of All the Queen’s Horses. It’s a must-see—her documentary and, perhaps, even my Q & A with her.

The Beer Clip:

9. Ginger Yarrow

Among those I knew for years before her BWB appearance: Ginger Yarrow, a board member of PING – Providing Instruments for the Next Generation.

The group does great work, and Ginger came to mind as a guest after I was blown away by the “Prisms of Winter” concert at OPRF a few years back. I knew that some of those musicians had benefited from PING’s support, and it was my small way of paying homage to the organization.

The Beer Clip:

10. Mark Bazer

Fellow Boston-area native, fellow Northwestern University grad, fellow Interviewer-in-Bar Guy–those are only some of the parallels between me and Mark Bazer, the creative force behind The Interview Show.

The Beer Clip:

11. Keith J. Taylor

Though we had talked by phone in preparation for the interview, I hadn’t met Keith Taylor till we shot this segment–the first one at One Lake Brewing in November 2019.

But I felt like I already knew him through his remarkable work as a visual humorist with Trump and Other Disasters—Cartoons and his regular efforts for Chicago Public Square. The esteemed and expert interviewer Charlie Meyerson kindly put me in touch with this gifted and industrious artist.

The Beer Clip:

The Prequel: Oak Park’s Own

From 2009 to 2015, I interviewed several Oak Parkers under the “Oak Park’s Own” banner, including author / journalist David Mendell, Cubs photographer Stephen Green (my only two-time guest), the remarkable Jeanette Fields, Obama 2008 campaign photographer Todd Bannor, and viaForensics co-founders Andrew and Chee-Young Kim.

Below is my chat with Shrubtown cartoonist Marc Stopeck in 2011.

To this day, Marc claims, he has never seen the segment. I guess he doesn’t need to, right? He knows what we talked about.

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How to undermine your lobbying effort in one (cut-and-paste) step

You are passionate about an issue. You inspire and organize others who are likewise passionate. To spark change, you need to persuade someone else—an individual or a group of people—to see things your way.

What do you next?

If you confuse “like-minded” with “carbon copy,” you may make the mistake of committing cut-and-paste activism. That’s where you tell all your followers: “Do exactly as I do, communicate precisely as I communicate. There’s power in flooding e-mail in boxes with the same message!”

Alas, there is far more impact in personalization, as when each supporter takes the time to put their own “signature” on the communication. They customize it with.

*A detail about what life experiences bring them to the issue;
*A recent event that prompted their action;

*Something as simple as an opening line that acknowledges the individuality of the message’s recipient.

If all anyone does is cut-and-paste a template, then they will be demonstrating only one thing for certain: their ability to cut-and-paste. Might they may have much more insight and passion and, thereby, value to bring to the lobbying effort? Sure thing. However, there’s no evidence of it.

How is the object of your lobbying to know that you have sufficient knowledge about the issue so that they can take your input seriously? The recipients of your cut-and-paste communication won’t confidently draw that conclusion. And to the extent that your campaign appears to be a cut-and-paste, impersonal assault on someone’s in-box, that’s the degree to which you jeopardize undermining your own cause.

“If all anyone does is cut-and-paste a template, then they will be demonstrating only one thing for certain: their ability to cut-and-paste.”

E-mails are easy to send. Then again, deleting them is even easier.

If you want to wage a more effective lobbying campaign via e-mail, whether your outreach is to a corporate leader, someone in elected office, or anyone else, then make your message tougher to delete. Don’t treat them as a “target.”

On a platform that so easily lends itself to impersonal tactics, take a few moments to provide the personal touch that only you can offer.

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