The Most Famous Newspaper Headline In History

There is no doubt that US Presidential elections are the most followed in the world and lead to huge domestic and international media coverage.

In today’s day and age, it is hard to imagine that updates cannot be made to a story, but the technology of 1948 led to one of the most bizarre and infamous newspaper headlines ever: “Dewey beats Truman”.

The back story was of incumbent President Harry Truman being widely touted to be removed from office by his challenger Thomas Dewey, who was at the time the governor of New York. Truman’s poll rating was appalling in the lead up to the election with only one in three Americans giving the thumbs up to his Presidency.

In addition, the mid term senate and representatives elections went to Dewey’s Republican party, ending 20 years of Democrat supremacy.

Further undermining Truman’s hand was the fact that his commerce secretary Henry Wallace had broken ranks and announced his intention to run as a third party candidate due to differences over foreign policy towards the Soviet Union.

Southern Democrats objected to President Truman’s approach towards civil rights and set up the States’ Rights Party.

Everything was set for a Dewey victory and a Gallup poll showed that he was beating Truman by five percentage points. However, the poll was carried out some weeks before the election, but the results were only published on the eve of the election. The NBC forecast that Truman was to lose heavily and The Chicago Daily Tribune even called him a nincompoop in its leading article.

That night, President Truman went to bed fully expecting to lose, but he was woken by aides at 4 am to tell him that he had won by some five percentage points. Poetic justice also took place that day as the Tribune was forced to publish early due to a printing strike. It ran the infamous headline purely on the basis of the Gallup poll. Truman was famously photographed celebrating his victory by holding a copy of the Tribune up for the cameras. The rest is history.

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