JUST HOW BIG WERE THE ‘THRONGS’?…. By all accounts, turnout at yesterday’s far-right rally at the Lincoln Memorial was pretty strong, but that observation tends to lead to another question: how strong was it?

To underscore how tricky this is, consider two reports from McClatchy. One article said “tens of thousands” of people showed up for the rally, while another said “hundreds of thousands.” Same news outlet, same day, covering the same story.

No wonder the National Park Service gave up on offering crowd estimates years ago.

As far as I can tell, the only outlet to publish an even vaguely-scientific headcount was CBS News.

An estimated 87,000 people attended a rally organized by talk-radio host and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck Saturday in Washington, according to a crowd estimate commissioned by CBS News.

The company AirPhotosLive.com based the attendance on aerial pictures it took over the rally….AirPhotosLive.com gave its estimate a margin of error of 9,000, meaning between 78,000 and 96,000 people attended the rally. The photos used to make the estimate were taken at noon Saturday, which is when the company estimated was the rally’s high point.

I imagine the right will find this number deeply unsatisfying, but a crowd of 87,000 people really isn’t that bad. We are, after all, talking about a rally in late August, held by a media personality with declining ratings, which had no clear purpose or rationale.

It’s not a tally that should necessarily strike fear in the hearts of the nation, but it’s nothing for conservatives to be ashamed of, either. When 87,000 folks show up for an NFL game in Washington, it’s considered pretty good turnout. It looks puny up against the numbers for, say, President Obama’s inauguration last year, but the president enjoys far more support than a deranged media personality.

The problem, though, is that supporters exaggerated expectations in the wrong direction. Organizers told the National Park Service they expected 300,000 people to attend. The head of Freedom Works, an allied right-wing outfit, said on Friday he expected between 400,000 and 500,000.

One of these days, these folks will learn how to play the expectations game. For now, they’re surprisingly bad at it.

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.