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25 Feb, 2019 12:50

200,000 or 10,000? WaPo deletes inflated Venezuela Aid Live attendance figure from its website

Modeled on Live Aid, Richard Branson's charity concert was meant to unite the world behind the cause of delivering aid to Venezuela (which its government doesn't want). But the endeavor would look vainglorious if few turned up.

The hastily planned five-hour affair at a Colombian-Venezuelan border crossing was scheduled to start at 11am local time on Friday – a workday. This wasn't a masterstroke of event logistics, even if many of the biggest Latin American stars, presidents, and opposition leader Juan Guaido, were due on the expensively assembled rotating stage.

The entire mainstream Western media dutifully covered the event as a success, even before it happened, unquestioningly repeating claims of 250,000 people attending and $100 million being raised in 60 days, although it was not clear how these figures were arrived at.


'Tiny fraction'

On the day, the narrative continued unchanged. Colombia, whose President Ivan Duque joined Guaido on stage, reported that 317,000 people attended the gig. This was a wonderfully precise figure considering there were no tickets and people came and went at will.

The Washington Post was a little more cautious, giving a figure of 200,000. But perhaps oddly, considering all the pre-concert hype, most media outlets gave no estimates at all, concentrating on the revolutionary calls and platitudes of peace coming from the stage.


This was a wise move. The Live Aid concert in London at Wembley in 1985, recently recreated for the Queen biopic 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' was attended by 72,000, and was made iconic by the swooping overhead shots of the overfilled stadium.

With a crowd three, or perhaps four times bigger, one would have expected truly impressive vistas of the endless masses to emerge, yet the majority of the camera angles were close-ups or shots taken from behind the backs of the audience, just a few rows back.

Dan Cohen, the RT reporter on the scene, said that at 11am only a "tiny fraction" of the announced crowd was present – likely no more than 10,000.

Using the few available aerial shots taken throughout the day, and some standard crowd calculations for the occasion, alternative news site Moon of Alabama estimated an attendance of about 18,000.

Even if these are conservative numbers, and one imagines that some in the audience popped in for just a few songs to be replaced by others, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that hundreds of thousands were present.

Also on rt.com Venezuela aid tensions

The Washington Post, which had not attributed its original estimation to any source, edited the number out of the later drafts of its article, without making any acknowledgement of the correction. The original can still be found in saved screenshots and cached copies, while the number still features in other articles.

Regime change songs

While it is tempting to do online detective work to expose published untruths, the failure of Venezuela Aid Live was not about the numbers. That people did not come, or that newspapers exaggerated, were all symptoms – not causes.

However naive or vain the participants or inefficient the spending of its donations, the original Live Aid was at its heart driven by a genuine desire to do good for those suffering in Ethiopia.

The altruism of Aid Live was less self-evident.


Here is an event created by Guaido and Richard Branson, a man with no obvious ties to Venezuela, but a friend to Davos elites of all stripes, who loves to play holiday host to the Blairs and the Obamas. It was an extravaganza for which an exact funding breakdown has still not been made public. It was staged in tandem with the violence-inciting aid caravans the following day.

Also on rt.com Red Cross denounces unsanctioned use of its emblems to smuggle US aid to Venezuela

The most respectable charities in the world, including the UN, Red Cross and Oxfam, have distanced themselves from the entire Western-backed "aid" initiative in Venezuela, bemoaning its "political tone," while adding that "humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives." None of the slogans for regime change shouted off the stage on Friday are likely to have brought them on side.

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