Mistakes Are Made During Close Campaigns
As this historic presidential campaign comes to a close and the nation awaits the election of its next commander in chief, members of the media should bear in mind three infamous words in their haste to predict the winner: "Dewey Defeats Truman."
Probably the best-known error in presidential election coverage was made 60 years ago at the Chicago Daily Tribune, which declared Thomas Dewey the victor over President Harry S. Truman. Pollsters predicted that Dewey would defeat Truman in the 1948 election. The reliance on those predictions by a few deadline-pressed Tribune editors — combined with slow election returns, tight deadlines and a staff strike — produced the paper’s most famous embarrassment. Overshadowed by the headline was another error on the same page: Part of the top story’s second paragraph was printed upside down.
The newspaper and a video on media mistakes can be seen in the News Corporation News History Gallery.
Wanting to be first with breaking news is nothing new: Beating the competition is a matter of pride for news professionals. A look through the Newseum’s collection of historic newspapers reveals that while the Tribune’s mistake may have been the most famous error, it certainly wasn’t the first.
In 1916, the Cleveland Plain Dealer declared Charles Evans Hughes the winner in its front-page banner headline. But the final tally showed different results: Incumbent President Woodrow Wilson had won.
As recently as the 2004 presidential election, the New York Post went out on a limb and declared Rep. Dick Gephardt the vice presidential running mate of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. "Kerry’s Choice: Dem Picks Gephardt as VP Candidate," the headline declared. Sen. John Edwards turned out to be Kerry’s choice. The Post corrected itself with a revision: "Kerry’s Choice: Dem Picks Edwards as VP Candidate (Really)."
In the 2000 presidential election, considered the most controversial in political history, the intense competition to be first, coupled with unreliable polling data, a razor-close election and 24-hour news coverage, led to confusion and conflicting broadcasts about the results. Broadcasters initially said Democratic nominee Al Gore had won the key state of Florida. Then they backtracked and said Republican nominee George W. Bush had won the state. In the end, it was clear that the rush to be first was in large part responsible for the blunders. Editors at the Orlando Sentinel in Florida went through several headlines before finally settling on "Contested."
After a contentious recount that involved a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court to end it, Bush was declared the victor. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.