Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

The Tuesday morning radio News Brief announced that President “Trump” had returned from inspecting the damages caused by the wildfires on Maui. Obviously, the force of habit among the script writers and the newscasters predominated, thereby giving the public another example of lack of fact-checking.

When Biden was inaugurated, the media continually referenced the “fact” that his inauguration was the first in well over a century that was not attended by the outgoing president, as Trump already had left Washington. How short memories can be! President Nixon did not attend the inauguration of President Ford in 1974, far less than a century ago.

Examples such as these explain why media people often are called “talking heads.” They might have excellent stage presence or memorable voice quality, but frequently they are deficient in basic knowledge. Whether one is a Democrat, or a Republican, or an Independent, or a liberal, or a conservative, facts are facts.

A 19th-century French historian, Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, recognized the shortcomings of understanding the past and advocated what he termed the “scientific” approach to the study of history. His most famous aphorism stated that “Patriotism is a virtue; history is a science. The two must not be confused.”

His point of reference was the conflicting interpretations by fellow historians of his time of the nature of the French Revolution, the resulting outcomes of which depended on each writer’s personal opinion. Updating Fustel to our time, and the presentation of today’s news, which is tomorrow’s history, factual, or “scientific” interpretation often is overtaken by the media’s desire to get a point across to the public.

At times that need to supplant fact with opinion can be overpowering. The most acknowledged example of such juxtaposition of fact with “wish-it-were-true” occurred at the conclusion of the 1948 presidential election between President Harry S Truman and New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. 

Dewey had lost to Roosevelt four years earlier, and this time he was slated by the media to win. Truman had selected Senator Alban Barkley of Kentucky as his running mate, and Dewey had named California Governor Earl Warren as his, despite Warren’s controversial support of the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.

The Chicago Daily Tribune, now The Chicago Tribune, then published by the ardent Republican, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, aggressively backed Dewey, who was favored to win. The Tribune’s editorial staff was confident to the extent that the morning after the election on November 3, 1948, the large front-page headline read, DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN, all in huge capital letters. Unfortunately for them, Truman had won.   

The Tribune, a morning newspaper, had been disrupted by a printers’ strike for months prior to the election, necessitating the adoption of a new method of production that required the actual printing to begin five hours earlier. As a result, the newspaper had been printed before all the returns were tabulated. The headline remains the classic example of editorial wishful thinking.


As today’s topic is media accuracy, astute readers might have noticed that in citing the full names of Truman and Dewey, I did not place a period after the S in Truman’s name, whereas I did place a period after the E in Dewey’s, which stood for his middle name of Edmund.

The absence of the period after the S was not an oversight, as President Truman insisted that S was his middle name, and thus should not be followed by a period. He said that his two grandfathers were Solomon Young and Anderson Shipp Truman, and that as the S was in honor of both of them, therefore it was not an initial, but a name unto itself.

Such are the joys of trivia.