The 1940’s was riddled with political scandals, but very few Americans at the time were aware of them. The reason being that the US media during the 1940’s
were not practicing investigative journalism and approached the private lives of those in the public eye very differently than journalists would later in the century. One of the biggest scandals of the 1940’s was the collaboration between American companies and Nazi Germany. Since allegations surfaced in March 1998, Henry Ford and Ford Enterprise have been under investigation, and evidence has been found linking Ford to business with Hitler. While Hitler was the Chancellor of Germany, and after war had been declared by the United States against Germany, Henry Ford received the German medal “Grand Cross of the German Eagle” in 1938. It seems that the award was only the beginning of the relationship between Ford and Hitler, as there is a 1945 report from a US Army investigator that reports that Ford supplied Germany with rubber and other raw materials in our decade of study.
Prescott Bush, the grandfather of George W. Bush has also been accused of working with the Nazis. On December 13, 1941, Roosevelt signed the “Trading with
the Enemy Act,” banning business dealing with the enemies of the United States. In 1942, the NY Tribune released an article on a connection between Bush and Hitler, accusing him of banking for the Nazis in America and lending out American money to fund Nazi projects. Upon release of the article, the US government investigated, and as a result of the found evidence, Bush lost his power in the Union Banking Corporation. He still had stocks in the company, and was able to make a great deal of money, but only a fraction of what he would have made if his business with the Nazis had continued.
As we all know, the Nazis were not just an enemy of the United States, they were a group responsible for holocaust. With the technology and communication capabilities of the 20th century, it seems almost impossible to us today that American companies or individuals would be able to carry out business with the
hated enemy that was responsible for fear and devastation in so many lives. Now,
however, there is very little evidence from the 1940’s to explain such happenings. In
2003, John Buchanan writes about, “60 years of inattention and even denial by the
U.S. media” in regard to Prescott Bush’s ties with Nazi Germany. The lack of media
attention on such a big scandal portrays the absence of investigative reporting in the 1940s.
Further, the media in the 1940’s turned a blind eye towards extramarital affairs of high powered politicians. This indicates a level of respect for the private lives of these individuals that is foreign to anyone living in the 21st century. Because of retrospective investigative journalism, and with the help of personal diaries and letters, we now know that FDR had a long going affair with Lucy Rutherfurd, his wife’s secretary. While such an affair years later would have been
splashed across every front page in the country, the media in the 1940’s allowed
FDR to keep his private life, including the paralysis he suffered due to illness earlier in his life.
1. With the huge role that investigative reporting has in our culture, politics
and economics today, should we continue investigating Henry Ford’s and
Prescott Bush’s relations with Nazi Germany?
2. Would Ford and Bush be able to get away with “trading with the enemy”
today, after the transition in investigative reporting, sparked by Watergate?
3. How did the media treat the private aspects of FDR’s life? Should the private
life of politicians and those in the public eye be more respected by journalists
today, why or why not?