Privately, Kilgore told his father, stories on new models would continue, but I don’t think anybody will print company drawings of new cars, and I don’t think they ought to if the companies will take reasonable precautions to keep the drawings out of general circulation around Detroit.

The Journal published the exchange of letters between Curtice and Kilgore on July 12—and did so without comment. Three weeks later, Curtice confirmed in writing that GM had decided not to sue, and that the “controversy” was “closed.”

Yet, however modestly they portrayed it, the showdown with General Motors had been a watershed moment for Kilgore and the Journal. One Journal executive later wrote that it “firmly established in the public mind, including millions who never had read The Wall Street Journal, and presumably never would, that here was a newspaper of unshakable independence and integrity. GM had done us a priceless favor.” David Lilienthal, former Tennessee Valley Authority and Atomic Energy Commission chairman, wrote Kilgore that it was “a classic in the history of newspapering.” Author Edward Scharff later concluded that this “new-won reputation was worth inestimably more than the General Motors advertising account.”

A junior ad salesman who later headed up sales for the Journal, summed up the implications simply: “Our future was assured.”


Mr. Tofel is the author of Restless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and the Invention of Modern Journalism, from which this is adapted.

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Richard J. Tofel is general manager of ProPublica and the author of Restless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and the Invention of Modern Journalism.