After almost 56 years, the Chicago Tribune’s infamous and erroneous banner headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” has finally met its match.
In a full-blown blunder, Tuesday’s cover of the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post declared that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry was picking former U.S. House speaker Richard Gephardt as his running mate.
Murdoch must have screamed far and loud when Kerry took the podium at a Tuesday ayem press conference in Pittsburgh to announce his running mate would be Sen. John E. Edwards. After Election Night 2000, when many TV nets and papers initially called the close race wrong, media congloms vowed their news divisions would be more careful in future political predictions.
The monumental mistake by the Post set off no small amount of glee in some quarters of the news biz, which regard the Post as a conservative-stumping tabloid.
The Post’s Gephardt story — labeled “an exclusive” — was splashed across the second two editions of the paper. That means the decision to change the cover and declare Gephardt the VP choice was made around 10 p.m. ET. In an odd twist, the story did not have a byline but was attributed to “Post wire services.”
No byline, sourcing
“One has to look with a giant, jaundiced eye at a front-page story with no byline and no sourcing, with whatever latenight decisionmaking taking place on a hope and a wing and a prayer,” said one political wag. “Clearly, they didn’t follow the conventions of even tabloid journalism.
“If they were certain, based on talking to one of only seven people who was a reliable source, I’m quite certain there would have been a byline.”
In a statement distributed by outside public relations firm Rubenstein Communications, Post editor-in-chief Col Allan said he made the decision after the paper received information it believed to be correct.
“We unreservedly apologize to our readers for the mistake,” Allan said.
Rubenstein said the paper was not commenting on specific details, such as why the story had no byline. A spokeswoman for Rubenstein did say the decision to go with the Gephardt exclusive was made around 10 p.m.
Speculation about what really happened at the Post abounded Tuesday. One had a Democrat purposely feeding the Post bogus information, although most dismissed that notion. Others suggested someone in Gephardt’s camp planted the item. Another popular theory was the Post decided to take a risk, pure and simple.
No other major newspaper or TV news network took such a gamble, even though it was apparent by Monday evening that Edwards was the leading candidate, according to several news orgs.
The story began to break in earnest at 7:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, when NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell reported on the “Today” show that Kerry would tap Edwards. Fox News Channel carried the info about three minutes later, followed soon after by ABC News and CBS News.
CNN came in last, reporting the news at 7:41 a.m. The competish made sure to point out that CNN’s Jack Cafferty was still talking about who might be Kerry’s pick, even though the final word had already broken elsewhere.
But disconnects seemed to be the order of the day. President Bush’s re-election campaign accidentally sent an email to reporters listing the various opposition points to the Kerry-Edwards ticket. Those talking points were meant for Bush supporters, not the media, and the Bush team quickly tried to recall the email.
Everyone in the media biz, it seemed, had plenty of fun with the Post’s flub, with TV news net anchors repeatedly showing the cover on air.
The New York Daily News got its jab in, with the headline “Post-mortified! Kerry picks Edwards!” posted on its Web site.