Dewey Defeats Truman

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Truman holding the famous issue of the Chicago Tribune

"Dewey Defeats Truman" was a famously incorrect banner headline on the front page of the Chicago 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.


The Chicago Tribune's erroneous headline became notorious 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.[1] 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."[2]

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.[1]

Election of 1948[edit]

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".[1]

The story by Tribune correspondent Henning[3] 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".[4]

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 published with the erroneous headline before the gaffe was corrected.[citation needed]

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 just a few thousand votes in Ohio, Illinois, and California would have produced a Dewey victory.

Instead of a Republican sweep of the White House and hold of both houses of Congress, the Democrats not only won the Presidency but also took over control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.


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. Truman died on December 26, 1972, before the gift could be bestowed.[1][5]

The Tribune was not the only paper to make the mistake. The Journal of Commerce had eight articles in its November 3 edition 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".[6]

References in popular culture[edit]

Canadian rock band Rush featured the newspaper on the cover of their 1980 album Permanent Waves; the paper can be seen at the bottom of the picture. Because of pressure from the Chicago Tribune, cover art director Hugh Syme changed the text to "Dewei Defeats Truman".[citation needed]

The season 2 episode of The Simpsons, "Lisa's Substitute", references the headline during a class election, with Martin Prince presenting the headline "Simpson defeats Prince", a photograph of which then appears below the accurate headline, "Prince defeats Simpson".[7] Also, in the season 14 episode of The Simpsons, "Large Marge", while watching the History channel Lisa and Homer have a bet on who won the 1948 election to determine what they will do during the day.[8]

The Onion's parody front page collection book Our Dumb Century features an edited picture of Truman holding an issue of The Onion reading "Other Guy Defeats What's-His-Face".[9]

The webcomic Achewood features the paper in the last frame of the strip for October 11, 2004.

The alternate history short story "The More Things Change..." by Glen E. Cox, contained in the anthology Alternate Presidents, tells the story of the 1948 election in reverse with the underdog Dewey defeating the overwhelming early favorite, the incumbent Harry S. 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.

Family Guy references the picture in "Extra-Large Medium" when Stewie mentions Chris he would like to run for office again, now that people have forgotten the incident. A photo then shows Truman holding a newspaper with the headline, "Stewie Defeats Truman".

In Settling Accounts: In at the Death, the final novel of Harry Turtledove's alternate history Southern Victory Series which depicts the Confederate States of America gaining its independence in September 1862, the Democratic Party candidate Dewey defeats the incumbent Socialist Party President Charles W. LaFollette in the 1944 election. Considering that LaFollette had presided over the recent defeat of the Confederacy in the Second Great War (an analogue of World War II), it was widely believed that Dewey would lose the election to LaFollette. To that end, the front page headline of November 8, 1944 edition of the Chicago Tribune inaccurately read "LaFollette Defeats Dewey". Dewey's running mate Harry S. Truman, the incoming Vice President, was photographed holding up a copy of the paper by the media.[citation needed]

After the Supreme Court of the United States voted to uphold the individual mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Fox News and CNN incorrectly reported that the mandate had been repealed, a photoshopped image of the original photo appeared online of President Barack Obama smiling while holding up an Apple iPad with CNN's website giving the erroneous headline.[10][11]


  1. ^ a b c d Wendt, Lloyd (1979). Chicago Tribune: The rise of a great American newspaper. Chicago: Rand McNally. pp. 680–684. ISBN 978-0-528-81826-4. 
  2. ^ Jones, Tim. "Dewey defeats Truman: Well, everyone makes mistakes". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-11-09. 
  3. ^ "Chicago Tribune's headline draws laugh from Barkley". Zanesville Signal. 1948-11-03. p. 1. 
  4. ^ "Dewey Defeats Truman". Chicago Tribune. 1948-11-03. p. 1. 
  5. ^ "Years Mellowed Breach Between Paper, Truman". San Antonio Light. 1972-12-27. p. 11. 
  6. ^ "The JoC: 175 Years of Change". The Journal of Commerce. 
  7. ^ The Simpsons, season 2, episode 19. Lisa's Substitute.
  8. ^ The Simpsons, season 14, episode 4. Large Marge.
  9. ^ Onion, The. Our Dumb Century.
  10. ^ Jauregui, Andres. "'Dewey Defeats Truman' Obama Photoshop Mocks CNN Over Healthcare Decision Error (PHOTO)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2014-01-20. 
  11. ^ Stableford, Dylan. "'Mandate struck down':'Dewey Defeats Truman' moment for CNN, Fox News". Yahoo News. Retrieved 2014-01-20.