Free Press falsely declared Clinton victory in Michigan before dumping story

Photo by Steve Neavling
Photo by Steve Neavling

The Detroit Free Press stunned the country and pollsters when it called the election for Hillary Clinton in Michigan at 9:15 p.m., long before most votes were counted.

About two hours later, Michigan’s largest newspaper removed the story and replaced it with a headline that read, “National race too close to call: All eyes on Michigan.”

No correction. Just brief, unsatisfactory explanation.

Turned out, the Free Press was wrong – or at least very premature. At 2:30 a.m., news agencies slowly began to report that Trump won Michigan. But as of 7 a.m., the Free Press was not among them, saying the race was too close to call.

“Congratulations!! You just set your credibility back 100 years,” @thechovanone tweeted to the Free Press. It was one of dozens of tweets criticizing the newspaper.

So how did the Free Press have a “Dewey defeats Truman” moment?

The newspaper used a mathematical model based on the results of 80 precincts – a system that had worked in the past.
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Workers went to each of the 80 precincts and phoned back the results, which showed Clinton won the model.

“Not a big surprise,” reporter Jim Schaefer said in a video explaining why the Free Press called the Michigan election so early.

But it was a big surprise.

This election has flipped all models and expectations on their head. Trump was not a typical Republican and therefore was difficult to predict. The best pollsters in the country expected him to lose.

“Why can’t you admit that the @freep jumped the gun and got it wrong???” JimYoungblood3 tweeted at 10:43 p.m.

The Free Press didn’t respond.

In a later edition of the story, the newspaper wrote, “Results from 80 key precincts showed Clinton with a slight lead and only slightly underperforming President Barack Obama’s margin of victory in those same precincts four years ago.”

The Free Press then doubled down, suggesting that Clinton would still win Michigan.

At 4 a.m., Trump led 47.6% to 47.3% over Clinton in Michigan, with key precincts in Washtenaw, Saginaw and Muskegon counties still uncounted.

Here’s how the Free Press explained its prediction of a Clinton win:

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.