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Bigger than Beck's: Jon Stewart's rally eclipses Fox News pundit's effort

There were an estimated 215,000 different interpretations of what just happened. As the throngs who attended Saturday's enormous "Rally to Restore Sanity" dispersed, there was no agreement on whether it had been a powerful answer to the Tea Party rallies that upturned politics last year, a popular uprising against the media, or just a hilarious free show by two of the hottest comedians in America.

There was one thing everyone wanted it to be, though, and that was bigger than Glenn Beck's Restoring Honour rally. And, yes, it trounced it. Mr Beck, the mewling Fox News host who had brought Tea Partiers to Washington two months earlier, had claimed between 300,000 and a million attendees; Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert claimed "somewhere between 10 million and one billion". The official arbiter, a CBS News-commissioned analysis, put Saturday's event on the National Mall at 215,000, compared with Mr Beck's 87,000. Certainly, it was many more than the comedians had dared to hope.

On stage, Mr Stewart urged an end to the influence of the cable news channels and their "politico pundit perpetual panic conflictinator", while among the crowd the sharpest debate was about who had come up with the wittiest placard. Many took aim at the Tea Party, generally, and its most extraordinary candidate, Christine O'Donnell, in particular. Others ranged from the smart ("Hyperbole is killing America's children") to the surreally irrelevant ("Raccoons are tiny burglars") to the sublimely self-congratulatory ("This is a good sign").

"There is an important distinction between what is shown on TV and what real people are like," said Oliver Dykstra, a political science student who had driven with friends for 22 hours from Minneapolis to be at the rally. "This proves there are lots of people out there who want sane, reasonable discourse."