Election Day Errors a Media Tradition at Least 7 Elections with Wrong Results

Article excerpt

ARLINGTON, Va. -- A close election. A confused result. And a revolutionary, wireless technology meant to bring news to people instantly.

The year was 1916 and from New York, Lee De Forest, an inventor and radio pioneer, made the first radio broadcast of presidential election results. The new president of the United States, he announced, was Charles Evans Hughes.

De Forest's second unintended milestone was becoming the first broadcaster to get it wrong -- Woodrow Wilson actually was the winner.

The incident was one of many media faux pas concerning presidential elections found by researchers at the Newseum, a museum focused on the news media. Inspired by the 2000 election and the news media's premature declarations of victory following Tuesday's voting, the researchers found seven elections in their archives in which the media announced the wrong winner, said Eric Newton, a news historian.

"The fundamental problem is you can't report what hasn't happened yet. No matter how fast news gets, you can never get faster than live," Newton said. "These kinds of mistakes have always been made, and sometimes it's the rush, the speed of trying to get a scoop, sometimes it's bias, sometimes it's an accident."

In addition to the famous Chicago Daily Tribune headline "Dewey Defeats Truman" in 1948, Newton cited other examples, such as when the Bay State Democracy of Boston gave the 1840 election to Martin Van Buren instead of William Henry Harrison and the El Paso Times incorrectly reported that William Jennings Bryan had defeated William McKinley in 1896. …