Apology for war reporter fired over scoop of the century
He was the first to break the news that the Second World War was over – but it ruined his career
It was a monumental scoop that got him into monumental trouble, but 67 years after being fired by the Associated Press for reporting the end of the Second World War a day ahead of everyone else, correspondent Edward Kennedy has received a posthumous apology from the agency.
The current head of the New York-based news wire, Tom Curley, issued a statement acknowledging for the first time that Mr Kennedy acted correctly when choosing to ignore a military embargo and tell the rest of the world the news that Germany had surrendered.
"It was a terrible day for the AP. It was handled in the worst possible way," Mr Curley noted. Mr Kennedy was killed in a car accident in 1963, but a memoir of his war years, Ed Kennedy's War: V-E Day, Censorship and the Associated Press, is only now being published with a foreword co-written by Mr Curley.
The dilemma faced by Kennedy on 7 May 1945 will sound familiar to many journalists today. He and 16 other reporters had been ferried by the military to witness the surrender of the Germans just past 2am in an old schoolhouse in Reims, France, on condition that they wait a few hours before publishing to give Joseph Stalin time to arrange his own surrender ceremony in Russia.
The hold was later extended to 36 hours and the reporters found themselves sat on the biggest story of their lives. When Kennedy discovered that a German radio station had broadcast details of the surrender the following afternoon, he protested to the censors that keeping the lid on the news was no longer tenable. They ignored him, but Kennedy sent his story to his London editors anyway.
For the other journalists who continued to abide by the embargo, Kennedy had committed the worst of sins. Their anger was directed also at the censors, however. "I am browned off, fed up, burnt up and put out," Drew Middleton, a New York Times correspondent wrote, calling the embargo "the most colossal 'snafu' in the history of the war".
The AP did not react well, not least perhaps because Kennedy's action led to the agency being briefly barred from reporting from the theatre in Europe. He had also sent his story to London which put it up on the wire without discussing his decision with any superiors. The agency scolded Kennedy and then fired him. "The Associated Press profoundly regrets the distribution on Monday of the report of the total surrender in Europe which investigation now clearly discloses was distributed in advance of authorization by Supreme Allied Headquarters," Robert McLean, the then head of AP, said in a statement on 10 May.
All these years later, Mr Curley claims Kennedy did the right thing given the embargo had nothing to do with protecting lives but was put in place purely for political reasons. "Once the war is over, you can't hold back information like that. The world needed to know," he said.
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