The Dean Scream: An Oral History

Twelve years in the past, Howard Dean experienced a day that concluded either remarkably or catastrophically for him. However, it is reasonable to assume that none of the candidates will have a day that ends as remarkably or catastrophically. Certain candidates’ prospects will essentially be ruined, and both Democrats and Republicans will have a victor, as well as a legitimate frontrunner for their party’s presidential nomination, by the end of the day. On Monday, the people of Iowa will gather at their nearby churches and school gyms to take part in the Iowa Caucus.

The polls showed a significant increase in opposition towards the nation’s involvement in the war, and one person who played a key role in steering the Democratic field was former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Activists and voters leaning Left were outraged by the Iraq war, which brought simmering resentment from the contentious 2000 election to a boiling point. By January, the American left’s revolt against President George W. Bush was in full effect.

“With a cartoonish immortal yell, he began his campaign to conquer the states in the months to come. Dean ad-libbed largely in a speech that was raucously heard above the thousands-strong crowd. In a hotel ballroom in Des Moines, Iowa, Dean tried to make himself heard after finishing his concession speech. However, the damage was far-reaching as his shocking supporters came in third place behind John Edwards and John Kerry. The Caucus Iowa marked the end of Dean’s months-long frontrunner status.”

Dean was so unprepared in that moment, as the first-ever political meme on the Internet, it became a legend. The cry of Dean’s became the stuff of memes. It was somehow missed by young adults who still had fun with it, but Dave Chappelle immortalized that skit, writing a hilarious moment that all Conan, Letterman, Leno, and cable networks played on loop. It instantly spread across the media landscape, becoming known as “The Scream Dean.”

It appeared that all of Dean’s shouting, regardless of whether it was justified or not, was the main reason for his campaign’s failure. What truly sunk Dean’s campaign was the constant noise and chaos caused by his relentless shouting.

Similar to a sudden burst of electricity, it rapidly gained momentum by June, and I became a part of the campaign in April of 2003, NICCO MELE, the Head of Digital Operations for the Dean Campaign.

Politics underwent a permanent transformation due to Obama’s plan, which originated from that particular campaign. The 50-state strategy, which emerged from that campaign, brought about a complete shift in Democratic politics under the leadership of Howard Dean.

We lack the flag and the crimson states possess it, that’s not something we’re going to assume. Individuals became genuinely thrilled about that type of occurrence. “We’re going to embed it in the soil, and we’re not going to permit them to seize this emblem from us,” he stated, seizing the flag at an occasion in Idaho. I recollect witnessing him converse and witnessing the viewers respond to him, and it gave me shivers. That was when he was gaining momentum, and it occurred throughout the Sleepless Summer Tour [Dean’s 6,147-mile, 10-city political revival tour] in August of 2003, particularly at occasions. CNN reporter KATE ALBRIGHT-HANNA reminisces.

That was transformed into a dance remix. Furthermore, he concluded with this incredibly passionate statement, “And I am present here to advocate for the Democratic faction within the Democratic Party.” And what I am curious about…And what I am curious about…” It was this impassioned address where he exclaimed, “What I am eager to find out is why numerous Democrats are supporting the War in Iraq. He delivered this speech at the winter gathering of the Democratic National Committee, during which he was borrowing from [deceased U.S. Senator] Paul Wellstone.

By the fall of 2003, Dean rose to dominate the Democratic field with a potent brand of left-wing populism and strident anti-Iraq War rhetoric. His campaign harnessed the Internet to reinvent grassroots fundraising and benefit from some of the first viral political moments in Iowa and New Hampshire, nearly topping every national poll.

Adam Mordecai, a member of the Dean Campaign’s Iowa Internet team, felt invincible as their candidate continuously won poll after poll, appearing on every magazine cover.

The organization was not solely based on old-fashioned polling numbers. In the end, it came down to two things: perception versus substance. However, what they built in Iowa always showed more substance than perception.

HOWARD DEAN: The statistics were not favorable, and Kerry was performing admirably.

Howard: MELE emerged as the frontrunner in Iowa, with Edwards, Gephardt, and Kerry also having significant financial support from shadowy PACs.

DEAN: Clark, Kerry, Lieberman, and Gephardt, there were four contenders who were coordinating their assaults. That’s always challenging.

The fact has been recorded. The remaining contenders engaged in daily conference calls to strategize their coordinated efforts to target us, as stated by Campaign Manager JOE TRIPPI.

The campaign was in chaos because I didn’t know what was happening on TV. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what it meant, and it was a mistake that both we and they went down. If two people start fighting in a multiple race-way, I was going to go after Gephardt. I didn’t know about it because I didn’t know about it, and we did the wrong things.

The supporters of Dean, who were rabid from day one, would probably chase us if we cut our support in half. Iowans would receive twelve calls a day from these crazy Dean fans. The system wouldn’t update the lists, but we had all these people calling us. When they hired this independent contractor, they didn’t have any money. Our voter access file system, VAN, was horribly broken. The dysfunction within the campaign was evident in all aspects.

The supporters of Dean were insane and Dean himself was crazy, as other campaigns were pushing the narrative that this whole thing was like the bar scene from Star Wars. People were already saying that supporters of Dean looked like they were from that scene, and everyone jumped on the fact that it was a huge gaffe. Dean then said that capturing Saddam Hussein didn’t make us safer, but they were still ahead in their campaign. However, they had a lot of infighting and the operation in Iowa was terrible, even though Dean was still pushing ahead.

The situation was deteriorating, and nobody would be aware of its deterioration. Consequently, we would gain some momentum from a victory as we approached New Hampshire, at least until the following day. Therefore, I was desperately hoping that it would manage to remain intact before the caucus night. In Iowa, it was quite evident that we were falling apart. TRIPPI: Hoping that the ground would not cave in beneath us.

Although we felt that we were losing, we were still hopeful of winning, of course.

The optimism and the multitude that Governor Dean had attracted, solely based on the gatherings, I believe it was the overall sentiment. I was highly hopeful, grassroots coordinator TERI MILLS.

I profoundly did not want to believe that. I was a true believer in eating dog food. We were probably not going to come in second, and we were not going to come in first either. I knew this from internal discussions in the campaign and from polling. Once upon a time, I inhabited two brains: MELE.


The nearby main office was a location where I stayed, I presume when the caucuses officially commenced, and greeted individuals and visited the voting locations, I likely labored throughout the entire day. I genuinely cannot recall my activities on that day, Dean.

Howard informed the person on the call. I responded, “Yes, please ensure that he is aware.” Paul glanced up at me and asked, “Should I inform him?” Paul was conversing with someone on the call when we confirmed that it was officially finished. I was at the main office with Paul Maslin, the pollster, TRIPPI.

Much more severe than we had anticipated. The statistics being reported were devastating to witness at that conference venue. The situation was not going smoothly, and I could sense it while being present in Iowa. Zephyr Teachout, the Head of Online Organizing for the Dean Campaign.

John Kerry came out as the winner in the Iowa Caucus. John Edwards clinched the second spot, while Howard Dean ended up in third position.


MILLS went over to the hotel and ballroom where the party was being held. The place was so crowded that we couldn’t even move. Did you mean that I was crowded?

During my entire time in politics, I had never witnessed such a grandiose celebration. Howard Dean, an ecstatic celebration, an assembly of incredibly enthusiastic individuals, around 3,000 of them, and we entered the room. TRIPPI:

And that’s exactly what I did. A close acquaintance of mine suggested that I take the spotlight and energize the crowd. I headed to the location to join the rest of the attendees, but unintentionally ended up consuming excessive alcohol. MORDECAI:

While the packed audience was getting ready, Dean’s team was behind the scenes deliberating on the next steps.

You cannot predict how things will go out there on the bus, whether you win or lose. The best shot to introduce yourself to America is on that night, when the cameras are rolling. If you have no idea who millions of Americans are watching, then you have no idea who you are. The fact is, the night of the Iowa Caucus was all about Howard Dean, who was tuned in to see TRIPPI, which is the most important matter for most of America.

It was a lot of fun. I went out and thought it was a great idea. “Let’s give them hell and go out there, they’re going down,” said Trippi: DEAN.

The crowd starts feeding off the energy and Tom Harkin throws his jacket around, as he walks up to the podium. If you watch the tape, you can see that Harkin was just trying to buck him up – you know, which is what he does. “Why,” said Tom Harkin [Iowa Senator], “don’t you just let her rip and throw off your jacket?” Harkin asked what he should do. The first person he saw on his way to the stage was TRIPPI.

The choice to cater to the audience was taken. They made the choice to be passionate. “Yes, he’s going to be passionate,” Patricia declares. I can’t recall if someone informed me earlier or if I discovered later, but this was also partially influenced by Senator Harkin’s guidance. The press is prepared by Patricia Enwright, the director of communications.

We could barely hear him talking, and he was like a rock star. Just as we entered the room, the governor walked in.

Essentially, he was uttering words that were inaudible to us. We couldn’t catch a single sound. It was reminiscent of a live music performance. I was positioned close to the stage, Mordecai.

“BYAH!” And then chuckles to himself. So he proceeds, he has no line to land on, and he reaches this climax in his tenor. And he acquired that neck skin roll because he had gained so much weight during the campaign, he is gazing down at the crowd. “And then we’re going to proceed to New Hampshire, and then we’re going to proceed to South Carolina,” he initiated naming the states. He was delivering this improvised motivational speech and he was getting himself worked up, right here. Then you anticipate applause, and there are crescendo phrases incorporated into those speeches. You can recite the phrases along with him, you reach the point where. I observed how many Howard Dean stump speeches, I cannot tell you, SALZMAN.

Constantly, I consumed Peanut M&Ms since I gained 20 pounds. I would only sleep for 4 and a half hours, and I was working for 20 hours per day, Dean.

Mordecai, being a person of larger size, would experience a noticeable change in color on his face, turning a vibrant shade of red, while his necktie would constrict tightly. Whenever he experienced any form of intense emotion, his head would appear as if it were on the verge of bursting. Unfortunately, the shirts he possessed were all insufficiently sized for him, leaving him with only a limited selection.

They can’t hear that guy yelling over a crowd, and CNN is creating a situation where the candidate can’t hear the audiences. Of course, the people back home can’t hear him either because the crowd is loudly roaring. The problem was that he was speaking into a unidirectional microphone, which was meant to make sure television stations can hear him: TRIPPI.

It would be fascinating to watch, but it wouldn’t sound pretty. There is background noise all over from them talking, but imagine if the noise shuts down. Then, picture yourself walking over to a bar with a friend you haven’t seen in a while and asking them about their job. Here’s how I think about a unidirectional microphone. TEACHOUT:

The speech as it appeared–and sounded–from inside the room:.

The Aftermath

No one remembered what happened all at once. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. It felt like a typical rally, but there was a strong sense of it being really loud. The venue was insane. ALBRIGHT-HANNA.

It was uncommon for anything to continue in a way that I had never talked about before, and there were 75 print reporters in the room; not only Dean did not have any sense of something happening, but I also did not have any sense of it.

It was not good to be going, but I realized it as soon as I saw it. I went up and looked over and over again at this scene of Howard, repeatedly seeing and looking up. So, nobody knew what happened until we were all hanging out at the press, having a beer.

And I asked, “What occurred?” And we entered the vehicle and she inquired, “What are your thoughts on the incident?” I rendezvoused with my colleague producer at CNN, and Dean emerged and delivered his speech there. We arrived in New Hampshire. Not one of the journalists on the media aircraft were discussing it. It never arose. I recall sitting beside another correspondent from USA Today. We promptly proceeded from the occasion to board the plane bound for New Hampshire.

“And this is what we’re stating,” the editors exclaimed. “Hey, I’m informing you I comprehend what the narrative is.” The reporters attempted to express, “No, it was distinct if you were present.” Editors conveyed to their reporters, “Hey, I witnessed it. I observed it on TV. I comprehend what occurred.” It was a fascinating illustration of the influence of television since editors were asserting, “No, that’s not the narrative.” There were individuals in the room who endeavored to report the narrative grounded on what they witnessed, and their editors were asserting, “No, that’s not the narrative.”

However, I remained unconcerned about it as the staff had already been exposed to some preliminary content from Fox News and similar sources. They were anxious about our situation, but when I arrived in New Hampshire, DEAN.

According to the AP, national television stations, both network and cable, aired the footage of what later became popularly known as “The Dean Scream” 633 times in the four days following the Iowa Caucus. The exact number of times it was broadcasted on local stations, although likely in the thousands, remains unknown.

It is widely believed that the first large-scale political meme emerged. It started as a comedic sketch on Chappelle’s Show and gained popularity. Late night hosts like Conan, Letterman, relentlessly mocked it. The clip also transformed into a pop-culture phenomenon.

The campaign did not uplift it. It was not so complimentary. This was something that gained momentum that frequently aided, and it primarily wasn’t the campaign’s doing. And they frequently assisted, for me, was predominantly doing minor tasks that enhanced the experience of Howard Dean’s candidacy. This was in the early days of the Internet. YouTube didn’t exist, Facebook didn’t exist. There were fragments of it starting to spread rapidly in unflattering manners. “Oh, fuck,” being like, I recall entering the next morning and MELE: I.

Prior to the existence of YouTube, it served as the initial authentic viral instance of video on the Internet, as stated by GARRETT M. GRAFF, Deputy National Press Secretary.

MORDECAI: The remixes, and the audio clips, and the complete package. I went through the seven stages of grief.

I was told by one of Dean’s staffers that he was going to set fire to himself and run into CNN’s offices in Burlington, Vermont, after the airing of The Scream on loop.

Also present were individuals who were defending it, but both went viral in an immediate way. This is the media trying to screw Dean Howard over immediately, with almost everyone experiencing a backlash, I remember: MELE.

We needed a win in New Hampshire. And on Tuesday, we clearly understood that we had a looming deadline, but at the same time, it was consuming all of our attention: GRAFF.

The continuous replay of the tape on every station, every fifteen minutes throughout the entire week, made it evident that it was not going to fade away. The quality of the tape was exceptional, making it impossible for us to dismiss it. It became apparent that we had to cease our campaigning efforts in New Hampshire. We were convinced that our only option was to persist with our campaign in New Hampshire. TRIPPI:

In order to reverse the negative consequences, they made several prominent media appearances. They performed on Letterman’s Top 10 and were interviewed by Diane Sawyer. They attempted to create a widespread media campaign. By doing so, they were trying to regain control over the extensive harm caused, Salzman.

In New Hampshire, we purchased around 3,000 VHS cassettes to distribute. We were sending individuals videotapes, both VHS and DVDs. People were not streaming videos online. People did not have high-speed internet. Prior to YouTube, accomplishing this was quite challenging. Additionally, sharing excerpts from those tapes and distributing them extensively included appearances by Letterman, Diane Sawyer, and MELE.

Furthermore, he had recently emerged victorious in Iowa. If there was one state he was certain to win, it was New Hampshire. John Kerry, who had served as a senator from Massachusetts, had been a familiar presence in their living rooms for years. We were on our way to New Hampshire, which was quite frustrating. The most troublesome aspect was TRIPPI.

The nationwide poll numbers of Dean started to decline, while those of Kerry and Edwards soared.

However, their efforts did not have any impact, it was unsuccessful. They attempted to regather and revive the enchantment in Wisconsin, believing, “Alright, this is the solitary state where perhaps we can regain some progress.” Consequently, he was defeated in New Hampshire, he was defeated in South Carolina, he was simply losing one state after another. Because once he lost Iowa, and then the Scream occurred, the polls in New Hampshire drastically declined. SALZMAN: Strategically, they attempted to reposition him with Wisconsin, which during that year was the sole primary state that had its own designated time slot on the calendar.

Dean finished a faraway third in Wisconsin. He declared that he was halting his campaign the following day.


What was the real effect of the Dean Scream? And how did it transform into such a larger-than-life cultural phenomenon?

The volcano erupts and the doctors are spinning, but the president is not ready to be shown as hot-headed. How about talking to the press and showing them how the campaigns of Edwards, Lieberman, Gephardt, and Kerry have been primed for a while? I think I had a good TV pump.

I still think it was a bad move for them to exist in that moment because I don’t say anything in defense of him, and not just because of what happened. But if you watch the clip of that one played over and over in isolation, SALZMAN.

TRIPPI: The largest error you can commit in American politics is to give ammunition to your adversaries.

MORDECAI: We didn’t comprehend one-way microphones. Dean declined to receive media coaching, so he didn’t either.

He delivered that speech without a script or preparation, and they failed to deal with what they should have. It doesn’t matter how many times it was repeated or played over and over again, that one moment is irrelevant. I’m not saying that 99% of this speech was good, and it doesn’t matter how good your speech was, that one moment can be isolated. If you’re running for president, you need to be sophisticated enough to understand how things work and at the level where you’ve got enough understanding to work the camera and play to it.

It is not necessary to tell the truth instantly every moment when asked, that is what I learned. I was a truthful teller. I made changes in my speeches at the last minute. I was an undisciplined candidate. We didn’t really have much discipline and I wasn’t anticipating how rough it would be. I came from a state with 600,000 passionate people. The honest truth is, I wasn’t just ready for primetime.

At the end of Dean’s campaign, Scream The had absolutely nothing. And we were going to be in a lot of trouble, I guess, because we didn’t win Iowa. Our entire strategy was built around winning Iowa: TRIPPI.

Yes, it definitely played a significant role. Was his candidacy solely responsible for killing Howard? I find it hard to believe that Scream was the only factor.

I think that if John Edwards had received a boost earlier, he might have ended up as the nominee in Iowa. The Democratic primary should have quickly become a two-man race between John Kerry and Edwards-John. I believe that the impact of “The Scream” was the true cost that Edwards paid for getting out of Iowa. I think it’s one of the most misinterpreted moments in American politics.

If it had not mattered, I am not sure he could have screamed at the end. He wanted to stop us at the establishment, that night he could have introduced himself and smiled.

The whole movement discounted the fact that they didn’t really understand something, and this was some sort of excuse for them to not write about it. This was an excuse for them to not write about something that the Dean really didn’t understand, and the national media and Washington establishment played a part in it: GRAFF.

I thought, “Oh my God, we were suddenly catapulted to the front and even though it was painful, we might actually win. I joined knowing that we weren’t going to win and it made it even more painful. I had lost my girlfriend and was in debt up to my eyeballs. I lived in the office and for days on end, I ate nothing but Stew and Dinty Moore. I had moved from New York City and given up my whole life for this cruel year.”

It’s a lot of fun and I’ve had a lot of fun with it, being in front of people who are at least 25 or 30 years old. I don’t have any idea about what they think because they don’t have any kids anymore, but I still slip the speech into the conversation once in a while and I still have a great time with it, being friends with Dave Chappelle. I don’t have a lot of regrets about it.

What is visible to them? I would be immensely interested to learn from someone who has never seen the artwork “The Scream”: TEACHOUT

Certainly, it was an act of injustice. However, if you find it difficult to move past the Scream speech and disregard its impact, how will you handle a situation where Putin seeks to reclaim Alaska? If you dislike the unfairness, then perhaps running for president is not the right path for you. Personally, I acknowledge that it is indeed unfair and there are numerous unpleasant individuals in this line of work. Centuries ago, we used to engage in large-scale killings over matters of succession and asset distribution, which is essentially what politics revolves around. Politics is essentially a form of warfare. Running for president entails vying for the most influential position in the world. Allow me to express my thoughts on this matter. DEAN: