Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dewey beats Truman

One of the most famous newspaper headlines in history was the one that was printed by the Chicago Daily Tribune on the morning of November 3, 1948, the day after the election. It boldly declared that Thomas Dewey had beaten Harry Truman in the 1948 Presidential election, and it reaffirmed the fact that every poll had confidently predicted that Dewey would win. Just before the election, Life magazine had even released a cover with a photo of Dewey and the caption, “The Next President of the United States”.

Truman was not a glad hander, and the Daily Tribune had a low opinion of him. At one point, they actually called him a nincompoop on their editorial page.

At the time of the election, the Daily Tribune was struggling with a printer’s strike, which forced it to go to press hours before it normally would have. As the deadline for the first headline approached, managing editor Pat Maloney had to make a deadline call, even though results were still coming in from the East Coast. Due to the fact that the paper’s Washington correspondent, Arthur Sears Henning had predicted that Dewey would win, (and he was rarely wrong), Maloney decided to publish the opinion that Dewey had won.

The Tribune had already printed 150,000 copies before radio bulletins reported that the race was surprisingly close. Although the paper ultimately tried to destroy as many of the first edition as it could, one copy managed to get to St. Louis, and was shown to Harry Truman, who proudly held it up for the photographers.

A limited number of papers somehow managed to survive the purge by the Tribune, and a few of them turned up years later. On the day that a Texas couple found one in an abandoned storage facility in 2012, there were six of them listed for sale on eBay. The most expensive one was listed at $2495, but pristine copies of the same edition have sold for as much as $4000, a pretty hefty price for a newspaper that originally sold for 4 cents.

All of us make mistakes at some point in our lives, usually more frequently than we might care to admit. Nevertheless, most of us manage to accomplish enough positive things that we redeem ourselves.

Arguably, the most famous mistake in history was the printing of a postage stamp called “the inverted Jenny”, which was first issued on May 10, 1918. It shows a picture of a Curtis JN-4 airplane flying upside down. Only one pane of 100 inverted stamps was ever found,, which made them prized collector’s items. On May 31, 2016, a perfect copy of an “inverted Jenny” stamp was sold at auction. The final selling price, including the buyer’s premium, was $1,175,000.

The 1948 Presidential election is considered by most historians to be one of the greatest election upsets in American history. Ultimately, Harry Truman captured 28 states and 303 electoral ballots, considerably more than the 266 electoral votes that were required at the time. He got 24,179,347 votes, a little more than 2,000,000 more votes than his rival, Thomas Dewey.

The Truman administration achieved some notable accomplishments, but the start of the Korean War, and his dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur caused his approval rating to plummet to 22% by 1952, which helped Dwight Eisenhower achieve a landslide victory in the 1952 election. After his defeat, Thomas Dewey resumed his role of governor of New York, a role that he held until 1954. At that point, he returned to his private law practice, which made him a very wealthy man.

Thomas Dewey is a good example of handling defeat with honor, and his modern day counterpart is Al Gore, who was defeated by George W. Bush in 2000, even though he had actually captured 500,000 MORE votes than George Bush. The election was finally determined by the fact that Bush captured 271 electoral votes (ONE more that was needed) and Gore captured 266.

I am not a crook.

Eventually, it was determined that Bush actually LOST the election, but by that time, Gore had conceded defeat without whining that the election was “rigged”. As a result, he was able to spend more time discussing climate change, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”.

The botched headline in 1948 did not do any lasting damage to the Chicago Tribune. Over the years, the paper has earned 25 Pulitzer prizes, a respectable number in view of the fact that owner Robert McCormick refused to participate in the awards for a number of years.

The moral of this story is that if you make a mistake, don’t spend a lot of time agonizing over it. Admit your mistake and move on. Tomorrow is another day.

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