It looks something like 1948 for mainstream American news media today.
Donald Trump’s stunning victory in yesterday’s presidential election brought reminders of the embarrassment of 1948, when Thomas Dewey, the presumptive favorite for the presidency, was upset by President Harry S. Truman, much to the shock of the American press.
In the weeks and months before yesterday’s election, prominent media analysts predicted Trump was going to lose, and probably decisively, to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Three months from now, with the 2016 presidential election in the rearview mirror, we will look back and agree that the presidential election was over on Aug. 9th.
“Of course,” he added, “it is politically incorrect to say that the die is cast. …
“But a dispassionate examination of the data, combined with a coldblooded look at the candidates, the campaigns and presidential elections, produces only one possible conclusion: Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald Trump in November, and the margin isn’t likely to be as close as Barack Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney” in 2008.
Trump won at least 290 electoral votes yesterday; Clinton, at least 228. Four years ago, Obama defeated Romney by an electoral count of 332-206.
In another essay at PowerPost a few days before the election, Rothenberg asserted: “Partisan pollsters on both sides” agreed it was “very unlikely that Trump will sweep all of the toss-up states and pick off one or two Clinton-leaning states, which he would need to do to win.”
Trump essentially accomplished just that: He won toss-up states Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, and Ohio, and flipped Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, both Democratic-leaning states where Clinton had been expected to win.
Misguided media predictions went well beyond Rothenberg’s projections.
“On Nov. 9, the day after Trump loses, there won’t be solidarity and howls of outrage. Everyone will just walk away.”
“I’m not sure I need to tell you this, but Hillary Clinton is probably going to be the next president. It’s just a question of what ‘probably’ means.”
Referring to Trump’s deficit of some seven percentage points in public opinion polling at that time, Silver declared:
“There aren’t really any direct precedents for a candidate coming back from this far down to win an American presidential election, although you can make a few loose analogies. Harry Truman’s comeback over Thomas Dewey in 1948 almost works as a comparison, but Truman wasn’t coming from as far behind as Trump is, and there was much less polling in 1948.”
The Washington Post reported on October 20 that Trump’s performance at the third debate, at which he declined to say whether he would accept the election result, touched off a “wave of apprehension and anguish [that] swept the Republican Party … with many GOP leaders alarmed by Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election and concluding that it is probably too late to salvage his flailing presidential campaign.”
Such eagerness to declare the election over prompted a rebuke from Howard Kurtz, an analyst and media reporter for Fox News.
Many pundits, Kurtz noted, “are now portraying the billionaire’s plight as Mission Impossible.”
He added, presciently:
“I’m always more cautious than that. I’ve seen too many elections where a candidate bounced back after being written off, the polls were off, or some unexpected event moved the needle.” Such a development came 11 days before the election, when FBI Director James Comey announced the reopening of the agency’s investigation into Clinton’s use of private email while she was secretary of state. But then, two days before the election, Comey said Clinton should face no criminal charges.
The media prize for excessive self-confidence has to go to New York magazine: Its election issue cover featured a photograph of an angry Trump, a taunting sneer, “LOSER,” emblazoned across his face. The issue’s publication date was October 31.
The cover today evokes the Chicago Tribune’s memorable and stunningly wrong front-page headline of November 3, 1948, which announced Dewey’s victory over Truman.
More from Media Myth Alert:
- Media myths of Watergate, ’60 debate circulate as campaign enters closing days
- Trump, Nixon, and the ‘secret plan’ media myth
- WSJ columnist, trying to explain Trump, trips over Cronkite-Johnson myth
- Glib and sanctimonious, Woodward likens Trump to Joe McCarthy
- Maureen Dowd misremembers the ‘Cronkite Moment’
- Chris Matthews invokes the ‘if I’ve lost Cronkite’ myth in NYT review
- Kennedy-Nixon debate myth emerges — as predicted
- Recalling George Romney’s ‘brainwashing’ — and Gene McCarthy’s ‘light rinse’ retort
- No, ‘Politico’ — Nixon never said he had a ‘secret plan’ for Vietnam
- Check out The 1995 Blog
- Memorable late October: A new edition of ‘Getting It Wrong,’ and more