I ONCE SAW A CROWD THIS BIG…. Going into yesterday protest in Washington, there were a few questions about what observers should expect. How nutty would the signs be? Would GOP lawmakers embrace the right-wing activists or stay away?

And perhaps most importantly, how many would show up?

Some organizers, relying on a non-existent report from ABC News, exaggerated the crowd size by a factor of 15.

Conservative activists, who organized a march on the U.S. Capitol today in protest of the Obama administration’s health care agenda and government spending, erroneously attributed reports on the size of the crowds to ABC News.

Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally that ABC News was reporting that 1 million to 1.5 million people were in attendance.

At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, D.C., fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as “tens of thousands.”

I’m not entirely sure which came first, but Malkin was also pushing the line that ABC News believed there 2 million people on hand for yesterday’s event. Whether Malkin’s bogus claim came before or after Kibbe’s bogus claim isn’t clear, but neither were remotely close to reality.

Alas, that did not stop a wide variety of far-right sites from running with the absurd claim.

Making matters slightly more embarrassing, several conservative sites ran with a purported aerial photo of the protest, which seemed to show a full Washington Mall. The picture seemed odd — the first clue was that the National Museum of the American Indian did not appear in the photo — and was later exposed as a shot from the Promise Keepers’ rally from 1997.

In truth, I don’t think the right has to feel embarrassed about an event that drew 70,000 people. That’s a modest turnout compared to recent events like President Obama’s inauguration or the pro-immigration rallies in 2006, and it’s underwhelming given Fox News’ role in promoting yesterday’s gathering, but getting 70,000 conservatives together for an event with no clear purpose isn’t bad. Wild exaggerations only diminish what was actually a decent sized crowd.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.