Fake News (11-2-1948)

Seventy years ago today.  Election night, 1948.

Like the rest of the nation, Chicagoans awaited the results of the presidential contest.  At about 10 pm, the bulldog edition of the next day’s Tribune hit the streets.  The headline read “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Well, that was expected.  President Harry Truman was trailing badly in all the pre-election polls.  The election itself was a mere formality.  Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York, would be moving to the White House.

What’s that in Truman’s hands?

But don’t go looking up President Dewey in your history books.  Truman upset all the pollsters and won.  And the World’s Greatest Newspaper was stuck with its most embarrassing headline.

Many factors led to the Tribune screw-up.  The printers were on strike, so the first edition of the paper had an earlier deadline.  First returns showed Dewey with his expected lead.  The staunchly Republican Tribune was no friend of Democrat Truman. The paper’s political correspondent assured the editor that Dewey was in. So the editor gave the order: “Roll the bulldog!”

Over 150,000 Tribs were on the street when the paper realized its mistake.  Circulation trucks were sent to retrieve the bulldog edition, replacing it with papers headlined “Early Dewey Lead Narrow.”  By then, too many early copies had passed into public hands.

The next day, Truman was returning to Washington by train from his home in Missouri.  His victory was assured.  At the St. Louis railroad station, a reporter handed him a copy of the infamous Tribune.  Grinning broadly, the president held up the paper for photographers.

Fake News, 1948

Back in Chicago, the Sun-Times gloried in its rival’s mistake.  For two days after the election, the paper ran a cut of the Tribune‘s front-page, with the caption “The polls were off—so were some headlines.”  On the third day, the Sun-Times put the train-station picture of Truman on its front page.

The years passed.  By 1972, the new generation at the Tribune had come to terms with the paper’s legendary blooper.  Plans were made to present Truman with a replica plaque of the front page for its 25th anniversary.  But the former president died before this happened.

Today, original copies of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” Tribune are valued collectables.  However, if your budget is limited, a small ceramic mock-up of the front page is still sold at—where else?—the Harry Truman Presidential Library.



2 Responses to “Fake News (11-2-1948)”

  1. 1 Garry November 2, 2018 at 12:53 am

    When i toured the Trib’s printing plant a year ago, there was a photo of Truman holding up that infamous paper in the second floor hallway.

  2. 2 Kirk Mellish November 2, 2018 at 8:55 am

    I’ve read a lot of history and of course was well aware of this, but didn’t know the role of the strike or the papers follow up efforts, nor their competitors trolling. Thanks, Good stuff!

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