Dewey Defeats Truman and the most infamous headline of all time

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What you're looking at is a man holding a paper with arguably the most infamous headline in history.

The man holding the paper isn't Dewey. It's Truman. President Harry S. Truman, to be exact. As Journalism majors will be learning about while reading Hiroshima, Truman was the President behind the decision to drop atomic bombs during the Second World War. He was also involved with a headline that will forever live in journalistic lore.

Here's the story:

In an effort to supersede all it's rivals in the news game, the Chicago Tribune was determined to be the first paper to break the news on the 1948 US Presidential election.

Polls and pundits had presidential candidate Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York as the overwhelming favorite to unseat the incumbent Truman as leader of the free world.

While the Tribune was looking ahead at the all the journalistic glory it envisioned itself draped in by breaking the story first, it had a little bit of a problem on its hands. Its printers and production crew were on strike, so it had to print much earlier in the evening then it normally would.

The Tribune's editor, J. Loy "Pat" Mahoney was forced to make a decision that inadvertently made history -- for all the wrong reasons. Based on polls, and reporting from the Tribune's own Washington correspondent Arthur Sears Henning, there was no way Truman was going to win this thing.   

150,000 copies with "Dewey Defeats Truman" in big black bold letters flooded the American mid west. But, as those copies hit newsstands, Truman proved his doubters wrong by swinging some key states on his way to securing the Presidency. 

The Tribune wasn't the only paper to run a headline erroneously declaring Dewey victorious, but it became the poster child for it when Truman posed with the paper two days later.

While the headline didn't end up changing the course of history, I'm sure it still serves as a vivid reminder for editors to check their sources before making the headlines. The last thing you want is the headline to be the headline. 


  1. i'd vote for anyone who shared my Dewey name. And i don't even vote!

  2. This is my second-favourite headline, right after HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR.


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