On This Day In 1945: Reporter Fired For Biggest Scoop In History

In World War II's final moments in Europe, Associated Press correspondent Edward Kennedy gave his news agency perhaps the biggest scoop in its history.

He reported, a full day ahead of the competition, that the Germans had surrendered unconditionally at a former schoolhouse in Reims, France.

 

For this, he was publicly rebuked by the AP, and then quietly fired.

As AP reports,

The reason: The veteran reporter was accused of breaking a pledge that he and 16 other correspondents had made to keep the surrender secret for a time, as a condition of being allowed to witness it. This was done so Russian dictator Josef Stalin could formally announce the defeat in Berlin.

 

Kennedy viewed the embargo as a political security issue, rather than a military one, and felt compelled to report the surrender, especially after learning that German radio had already broadcast the news.

 

In 2012, almost 50 years after Kennedy's death, then-AP President and CEO Tom Curley apologized for the way the company had treated the journalist.

Ed Kennedy, pictured below,  was one of 17 reporters taken to witness the ceremony.

He and the others were hastily assembled by military commanders, then pledged to secrecy by a U.S. general while the group flew over France. As a condition of being allowed to see the surrender in person, the correspondents were barred from reporting what they had witnessed until authorized by Allied headquarters.

Initially, the journalists were told the news would be held up for only a few hours. But after the surrender was complete, the embargo was extended for 36 hours—until 3 p.m. the following day.

 

Kennedy was astounded.

 

"The absurdity of attempting to bottle up news of such magnitude was too apparent," he would later write.

 

Nevertheless, he initially stayed quiet. Then, at 2:03 p.m., the surrender was announced by German officials, via a radio broadcast from Flensburg, a city already in Allied hands. That meant, Kennedy knew, that the transmission had been authorized by the same military censors gagging the press.

 

Furious, Kennedy went to see the chief American censor and told him there was no way he could continue to hold the story. Word was out. The military had broken its side of the pact by allowing the Germans to announce the surrender. And there were no military secrets at stake.

 

The censor waved him off. Kennedy thought about it for 15 minutes, and then acted.

Seventy years after the scoop, the AP is making Kennedy's original story and photographs available...

Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Western allies and the Soviet Union at 2:41 a.m. French time today. (This was at 8:41 p.m. Eastern war time Sunday, May 6, 1945.)

 

The surrender took place at a little red school house that is the headquarters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

 

 

 

The surrender was signed for the Supreme Allied Command by Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff for Gen. Eisenhower.

 

It was also signed by Gen. Ivan Susloparov of the Soviet Union and by Gen. Francois Sevez for France.

 

 

Gen. Eisenhower was not present at the signing, but immediately afterward Gen. Alfred Jodl and his fellow delegate, Gen. Admiral Hans Georg von Friedeburg, were received by the supreme commander.

 

 

They were asked sternly if they understood the surrender terms imposed upon Germany and if they would be carried out by Germany.

 

They answered yes.

 

Germany, which began the war with a ruthless attack upon Poland, followed by successive aggressions and brutality in concentration camps, surrendered with an appeal to the victors for mercy toward the German people and armed forces.

 

After signing the full surrender, Gen. Jodl said he wanted to speak and received leave to do so.

 

"With this signature," he said in soft-spoken German, "the German people and armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victor's hands.

 

"In this war, which has lasted more than five years, both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world."

*  *  *

After being fired by the AP, Kennedy took a job as managing editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press in California, and then went on to become publisher of the Monterey Peninsula Herald. He died at age 58 after being struck by an automobile.

Kennedy's family had held on to the manuscript for decades before his daughter, Cochran, began looking for a publisher.

She said that even though she was only 16 when her father died, she got the impression he still took great joy in his career, despite the episode.

Curley said Kennedy's daughter approached him around the same time he had become interested in the matter while helping with work on the book "Breaking News: How The Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace, and Everything Else." The publication of Kennedy's memoir prompted the AP's apology, Curley said.

He called Kennedy's dismissal "a great, great tragedy" and hailed him and the desk editors who put the surrender story on the wire for upholding the highest principles of journalism.