Dewey Defeats Truman

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By Stephen Waguespack

Headlines often set the tone and narrative for a reader before they ever devour any of the information in an article. Headlines can clearly summarize the contents and give the reader a quick taste of what’s in store. Unfortunately, they can also be confusing…misleading…or sometimes flat out wrong.

The most extreme American example of this happened on November 3, 1948. The banner headline of that morning’s Chicago Daily Tribune read, “Dewey Defeats Truman.” This headline signaled the fact that Thomas Dewey, then Governor of New York and the favorite to win that year’s presidential race, had defeated challenger Harry S. Truman the night before. The only problem was that it wasn’t true. Truman pulled off the upset victory, and the rest is, as they say, history.

These days, it is quite rare for a headline to be that wrong. Evolution in printing machinery and technological editing practices have made those types of extreme mistakes easily caught and corrected. However, technology has not yet solved the general issue of headlines that can inadvertently give the wrong impression to the reader.


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