Dewey Defeats Truman
"Dewey Defeats Truman" was an incorrect banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 3, 1948, the day after incumbent United States President, Harry S. Truman, won an upset victory over Republican challenger and Governor of New York, Thomas E. Dewey, in the 1948 presidential election. It was famously held up by Truman at a public appearance following his successful election, smiling triumphantly at the error.
The erroneous headline of the Chicago Daily Tribune (which later shortened its name to Chicago Tribune) became ill-famed after a jubilant Truman was photographed holding a copy of the paper during a stop at St. Louis Union Station while returning by train from his home in Independence, Missouri, to Washington, D.C. The Tribune, which had once referred to Truman as a "nincompoop", was a famously Republican-leaning paper. In a retrospective article over half a century later about the newspaper's most famous and embarrassing headline, the Tribune wrote that Truman "had as low an opinion of the Tribune as it did of him".
For about a year prior to the 1948 general election, the printers who operated the linotype machines at the Chicago Tribune and other Chicago papers had been on strike, in protest of the Taft–Hartley Act. Around the same time, the Tribune had switched to a method in which copy for the paper was composed on typewriters and photographed and then engraved onto the printing plates. This process required the paper to go to press several hours earlier than usual.
Election of 1948
On election night, this earlier press deadline required the first post-election issue of the Tribune to go to press before even the East Coast states had reported many results from the polling places. The paper relied on its veteran Washington correspondent and political analyst Arthur Sears Henning, who had predicted the winner in four out of five presidential contests in the past 20 years. Conventional wisdom, supported by polls, was almost unanimous that a Dewey presidency was "inevitable", and that the New York governor would win the election handily. The first (one-star) edition of the Tribune therefore went to press with the banner headline "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN".
The story by Tribune correspondent Henning also reported Republican control of the House of Representatives and Senate that would work with President-elect Dewey. Henning wrote that "Dewey and Warren won a sweeping victory in the presidential election yesterday. The early returns showed the Republican ticket leading Truman and Barkley pretty consistently in the western and southern states" and added that "indications were that the complete returns would disclose that Dewey won the presidency by an overwhelming majority of the electoral vote".
As returns began to indicate a close race later in the evening, Henning continued to stick to his prediction, and thousands of papers continued to roll off the presses with the banner headline predicting a Dewey victory. Even after the paper's lead story was rewritten to emphasize local races and to indicate the narrowness of Dewey's lead in the national race, the same banner headline was left on the front page. Only late in the evening, after press dispatches cast doubt upon the certainty of Dewey's victory, did the Tribune change the headline to "DEMOCRATS MAKE SWEEP OF STATE OFFICES" for the later two-star edition. Some 150,000 copies of the paper had already been printed with the erroneous headline before the gaffe was corrected.
Truman, as it turned out, won the electoral vote by a 303–189–39 majority over Dewey and Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond, though a swing of less than one percent of the popular vote in Ohio, Illinois, and California would have produced a Dewey victory. Instead of a Republican sweep of the White House and retention of both houses of Congress, the Democrats not only won the Presidency, but also took control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
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The incident might have been forgotten, except that when Truman was passing through St. Louis on the way to Washington two days later, he stepped to the rear platform of his train car, the Ferdinand Magellan, and was handed a copy of the Tribune early edition. Happy to exult in the paper's error, he held it up for the photographers gathered at the station, and the famous picture (in several versions) was taken. Henning's obituary in 1966, published in the Tribune, makes no mention of the event.
Tribune publishers were able to laugh about the blunder years later and had planned to give Truman a plaque with a replica of the erroneous banner headline on the 25th anniversary of the 1948 election. However, Truman died on December 26, 1972, before the gift could be bestowed.
The Tribune was not the only paper to make the mistake. The Journal of Commerce had eight articles in its edition of November 3 about what could be expected of President Dewey. The paper's five-column headline read, "Dewey Victory Seen as Mandate to Open New Era of Government-Business Harmony, Public Confidence".
Over 30 years earlier, the San Francisco Chronicle also took a journalistically-misguided gamble on the outcome of a presidential election. A streaming front page headline for November 8, 1916, proclaimed "Hughes Probably Elected", a reference to the Republican Charles Evans Hughes and his Vice-President Charles Warren Fairbanks (large images of both men were displayed on the page). As it turned out, Woodrow Wilson narrowly won re-election.
In popular culture
- In the 1992 alternate history anthology Alternate Presidents by Mike Resnick, the short story "The More Things Change..." tells the story of the 1948 election in reverse, with Thomas E. Dewey as the underdog and eventually defeats the early overwhelming favorite, the incumbent Harry S. Truman, by playing to anti-communist fears. The story contains a reference to the famously inaccurate banner headline "Dewey Defeats Truman". Given that it was regarded as a foregone conclusion that Dewey would lose the election, the front page headline of the Chicago Tribune on November 3, 1948 erroneously reads "Truman Defeats Dewey". The front cover of the anthology depicts a grinning Dewey proudly holding up the relevant edition of the Chicago Tribune in the same manner as Truman did in real life.
- Wendt, Lloyd (1979). Chicago Tribune: The rise of a great American newspaper. Chicago: Rand McNally. pp. 680–684. ISBN 978-0-528-81826-4.
- Jones, Tim. "Dewey defeats Truman". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 9, 2008.
- "Chicago Tribune's headline draws laugh from Barkley". Zanesville Signal. November 3, 1948. p. 1.
- "Dewey Defeats Truman". Chicago Tribune. November 3, 1948. p. 1.
- Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
- "Election of 1948: Dewey Does (not) Defeat Truman". Retrieved October 7, 2015.
- "Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives" (PDF). Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 2, 1948. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
- "Tribune's Arthur Sears Henning is dead at 89". Chicago Tribune. 1966. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
- "Years Mellowed Breach Between Paper, Truman". San Antonio Light. December 27, 1972. p. 11.
- "The JoC: 175 Years of Change". The Journal of Commerce. Archived from the original on July 6, 2007.
- The page is reproduced in Michael C. Emery, R. Smith Schuneman, and Edwin Emery (eds.), America's Front Page News 1690–1970 (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1970), p. 168.
- "Alternate Presidents Anthology Cover".