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10 Bizarre Moments in Presidential Elections


5
1948: The Chicago Tribune Gets the Winner Wrong
President Harry Truman holds up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune declaring his defeat to Thomas Dewey in the presidential election, St. Louis, Missouri. It's one of the most famous examples of a newspaper getting the story wrong. Underwood Archives/Getty Images
President Harry Truman holds up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune declaring his defeat to Thomas Dewey in the presidential election, St. Louis, Missouri. It's one of the most famous examples of a newspaper getting the story wrong. Underwood Archives/Getty Images

The polling and pundits all pretty much agreed that Democratic incumbent Harry S. Truman was toast in this election. Republicans had taken control of Congress in 1946, and Truman's own party was divided over his hard line against the Soviet Union. His support for civil rights for African-Americans led segregationists to bolt and form the States Rights Party, which nominated Sen. Strom Thurmond from South Carolina as its candidate [source: Miller Center].

That all made Truman look hopelessly vulnerable against the Republican challenger, New York Gov. Thomas Dewey. Dewey was a stiff, awkward campaigner with a tendency toward pomposity, but he was also a progressive and quite popular. Even when Truman adopted a more folksy tone and went on a whistle-stop tour to denounce the "do-nothing" Congress, the smart money still figured he was finished [source: Miller Center, Jones].

On election night, those assumptions swayed the Chicago Tribune, one of America's biggest newspapers, to make an embarrassing mistake. Because a printers' strike forced the shorthanded paper to go to press earlier than usual, managing editor J. Loy "Pat" Maloney trusted the prediction of his Washington correspondent, Arthur Sears Henning, and went with "Dewey Defeats Truman" as the headline.

The Tribune corrected itself in its second edition that day and all might have been forgotten except that two days later, the victorious Truman held up a copy of the original front page and posed for an unforgettable photo [source: Jones].


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