When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become president; I’m beginning to believe it.
– Clarence Darrow
I think American newspapers are at their traditional best when they’re announcing the winner of the presidential election.
At The Augusta Chronicle, we’ve been doing it since they began holding presidential elections, and the results show the shifts and changes, not only in journalism style but also in community support.
If you want to see for yourself, we even have a slideshow of the front pages since 1900 on our Web site.
My favorite? Maybe 1956, when we trumpeted Dwight Eisenhower, our golf-loving, D-Day hero, with very big, type: “IT’S IKE BY A LANDSLIDE!”
It’s dramatic. It communicates.
But other efforts were less so. Take 1900, for example, when “An Avalanche of Republican Votes Sweeps Away All Democratic Hopes.” That’s how we told Augustans that William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt had overcome the valiant Democrats, which the paper – and most of the South – then favored.
In 1904, the Democrat-boosting Chronicle took an even sadder tone when the Republicans won again. “Beneath A Blighting Avalanche Of Ballots, Democracy’s Standard Bearers Were Buried.”
Four years later, when the Republican (again) bested the Democrat, the Chronicle offered a more neutral: “W.H. Taft Defeats W.J. Bryan For President.” Augusta liked Taft. He came to town a lot and played golf.
As the years move ahead, Richmond County and the Chronicle sometimes seem to shift to the Republicans. In 1924 a huge “COOLIDGE ELECTED” headline reported the obvious, while a smaller front-page article reported that the taciturn Republican did very well locally.
Four years later, “Herbert Hoover Carries Richmond” suggested surprising GOP support.
This would melt away in the four Franklin Roosevelt elections of 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944, when Augusta was reported “back in the fold.”
Things were close on Election Night 1948, when the Chronicle headline reported Harry Truman’s lead was “slight.” At least we had him leading, unlike the Chicago Tribune, which famously and incorrectly gave the White House to Thomas Dewey.
As I said, the elections of Eisenhower, as well as those of JFK and Lyndon Johnson, were reported in traditional headline fashion.
In 1968, “Victorious Nixon to pursue domestic unity, world peace” offers a hopeful headline that perhaps fell short of what happened. Four years later Nixon enjoyed a “landslide,” indicating that headline writers favored it over the “avalanches” of the past.
And by the time Reagan got into the game, headline writers had him “sweeping” the election in both 1980 and 1984, something Bill Clinton’s headline did in 1996.
In 2008, it was back to “landslide” for Barack Obama.
So what will the Chronicle headline be Wednesday morning? Well, we might not know. After the damage from last week’s Superstorm Sandy, both casting and counting votes could be delayed. But that’s happened before, too.
After the very first U.S. presidential election in 1789, everyone had to wait on the outcome because we hadn’t figured out how the Electoral College would work.
Finally, our April 13, 1789, edition offers this: “Since the votes of South-Carolina and Georgia have been known, it appears that illustrious soldier and venerable citizen GEORGE WASHINGTON, Esq., is unanimously elected First President of the United States.”
He took the oath of office a week later, and the rest is history.
Ours and yours.