After the Iowa caucus in 2003, 3rd place finisher Dean, while amping up the crowd, let out his now infamous, "Haaaww!!" Howard Dean's yell

Given the daily gaffes by Donald Trump, Dean's exuberance seems mild by comparison. Why did the media and many pundits declare his utterance to be the end of his presidential campaign?

While Dean was excited, nothing he said was out of context or inappropriate given he was speaking to his base. What am I missing here?

  • It got him bad press before the crucial New Hampshire primary.
    – Colin
    May 14, 2017 at 2:42
  • 3
    Yes, but Why? What was it about that incident that tanked Dean?
    – M.Mat
    May 14, 2017 at 3:23
  • 1
    I take it then your question is why did the bad press hurt him not why did it get him bad press? Trump's behavior got LOTS of bad press in the primaries, but none of it sunk him.
    – Colin
    May 14, 2017 at 3:24
  • 4
    Those were such quaint, innocent days in politics, weren't they? Sigh.
    – user1530
    May 14, 2017 at 6:38
  • 1
    @blip - innocent? Ahem John Edwards comes to mind.
    – user4012
    May 15, 2017 at 1:44

2 Answers 2


FiveThirtyEight did a mini-documentary on the "Dean Scream" and its aftermath. (The leadup to the scream itself start at 6:15.) Esquire also has an article which interviews a lot of the same people. Effectively, there are three takeaways:

  1. Dean had already lost in Iowa. He came in third, losing areas he had expected to win, such as college campuses. The expectation beforehand was that he would win the state, so unexpectedly coming in so far behind (18% compared to 38% and 32%) was a major blow. He then went on to lose every single primary by 10 or more points.

  2. For whatever reasons (political, humor, or otherwise), the Scream was replayed an absurd number of times over the next few days. Often just those few seconds, rather than the whole speech. (I remember being very tired of hearing that soundbite.) To the point that various people in the media have expressed regret over overplaying it. The impression became one of someone who was crazy and out-of-control, which reinforced what other candidates had been saying about him, and made a poor first impression on people who had ignored the primary up until that point.

  3. Finally, there was no counter-video to offset it. These days, if a similar technical gaffe happened, where the television feeds heard something that differed from what people in the room heard, people's cell phone videos would be all over the internet and the "the media is deliberately mischaracterizing him" narrative would be out there. But at the time, the mainstream media was it. And since they were hammering the weirdness of the scream so hard (see #2), that was what people internalized.

Fundamentally, the first point is the most significant. Dean lost. He might have been able to recover, if not for the Scream and the media attention it got, but there's no guarantee of that. Likewise, if he had won, then the Scream might not have been so devastating, or else it might be clearer that it was the cause of his subsequent losses. But instead, he lost a state where was seen as the front-runner, right at the beginning of the election cycle. And that killed his campaign.

  • Well done Bobson; great research links. Question answered. I think it was his "angry man" persona fueled by media sensationalism of "finding an angle." The "establishment" politicians were frightened by his desire to change business as usual.
    – M.Mat
    May 14, 2017 at 4:28
  • 2
    @M.Mat - Yeah, he was definitely ahead of his time.
    – Bobson
    May 14, 2017 at 14:49
  • Here's an additional reference youtube.com/watch?v=BzEUwfgk0jc
    – John K.
    Jun 6, 2017 at 17:43
  • So is your final answer that the scream was not the cause of him losing, but it occurred at the same time as other lesser-reported factors, so a sloppy media narrative ties the coverage to the outcome and assumes the former caused the latter?
    – smci
    Apr 1, 2019 at 5:44
  • @smci More that he was already losing, and the Scream (and its treatment by the media) ensured he didn’t even have a chance to recover
    – Bobson
    Apr 1, 2019 at 11:04

Same reason that the Ed Miliband bacon sandwich photograph and a myriad of similar "manufactured gaffes" were a "big deal": they were funny! It's America's Funniest Home Videos: Politics Edition, except without Bob Saget (which makes it even better)!

It gets aired on the news. It's funny so the announcer makes a quick joke. Satirists pick up on it and make more jokes, as do some late night shows. Now it's suddenly a "thing" and it feeds back in the next day's news when someone says something "interesting" about it (such as "he was just hoarse"), and the feedback loop continues.

Why did the media and many pundits declare his utterance to be the end of his presidential campaign?

Because it sounds nice and expert-y? There is no real evidence for this claim. It was a speech after the Iowa primary where he ended third; this general pattern was continued for the rest of the primaries. Was it due to the scream and the attention it received? Who knows...

  • I don't watch TV. I get my news and info via internet, podcasts, NPR, BBC, etc. Seeing this clip on YouTube made me wonder why such a big deal was made over such a minor display. Still don't get it and I didn't think it was funny--it was actually nice to see a public person be so engaged.
    – M.Mat
    May 14, 2017 at 3:19
  • *Ed's sandwich is kinda funny. Tough to be caught with your mouth full and all.
    – M.Mat
    May 14, 2017 at 3:21
  • @M.Mat - Most normal people don't have trouble eating a sandwich, nor do they stop eating it halfway through and hand it off to a friend. The implication isn't that he's eating it funny, it's that it was a stunt that failed.
    – Valorum
    May 14, 2017 at 7:04
  • According to the wiki page, not a stunt. The pic spawned memes on his ineptitude to lead the country.
    – M.Mat
    May 14, 2017 at 7:09
  • I find don't find most of the "funny" things I see on TV or the internet "funny" @M.Mat ;-)
    – user11249
    May 14, 2017 at 10:36

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