On December 31, 1927, the Dearborn Independent–a newspaper published by Henry Ford that, at the peak of its popularity in the mid-1920s, had about 700,000 readers–rolls off the printing press for the last time. Since 1920, Ford had used the paper as a platform for his anti-Semitic ideas, and many of its articles and essays were collected and published in a book called “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem.” It was a bestseller in Nazi Germany and remains in print today.
Henry Ford was an innovative entrepreneur, but he was also a flagrant and unapologetic bigot: He hated immigrants, thought labor unionists were “the worst thing that ever struck the earth” and made no secret of his belief in “the Jewish plan to control the world, not by territorial acquisition, not by military aggression, not by governmental subjugation, but by control of the machinery of commerce and exchange.” (He blamed Jewish bankers for everything that was wrong with the world, from the Great War to his own inability to buy out his company’s shareholders during the recession of 1919.) Early in 1920, he put a new editor in charge of the Independent after the old one refused to print Ford’s vitriolic essays and resigned, and the first of the paper’s anti-Semitic tirades appeared in May 1920. They circulated widely, since the paper was sold by subscription as well as through Ford’s nationwide network of dealerships.
In 1927, a Jewish lawyer and farm cooperative organizer named Aaron Sapiro sued Ford for defamation. (His was the third anti-Independent lawsuit, but the first to go to trial.) In court, Ford refused to take responsibility for the articles that appeared in his newspaper: in fact, he faked a car accident and hid in the hospital so he wouldn’t have to testify. The suit ended in a mistrial, and–likely because of all the bad publicity the trial and the newspaper had brought him–Ford agreed to a private settlement with Sapiro. He issued a somewhat insincere public apology for his newspaper’s years of defamatory content–“to my great regret,” he wrote, “I have learned that Jews…resent this publication as promoting anti-Semitism”–and at the end of the year he closed down the Independent for good.