AP Apologizes to Fired WWII Reporter

Tom Curley, the top executive of The Associated Press and an OPC member, reached into the archives of the AP and realized he needed to apologize for action a predecessor took 67 years earlier: the firing of Ed Kennedy, the chief of the AP’s Western Front staff, who on May 7, 1945 reported the unconditional surrender of Germany a day ahead of his competition.

Curley apologized May 4 and four days later, he spoke at AP’s headquarters during a panel discussion of Kennedy and his memoirs. Kennedy defied military censors to report the German surrender. "His conduct was absolutely the right thing to do and beyond reproach," Curley said.

The apology was spurred by AP’s own research and the publication of Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship, and The Associated Press, a book edited by Kennedy’s daughter, Julia Kennedy Cochran. Curley, president and CEO of the AP, wrote the introduction to the book with John Maxwell Hamilton, provost at Louisiana State University who headed the panel discussion.

Kennedy was one of 17 reporters allowed to witness the formal surrender of German troops on the condition that they would keep it secret for a few hours — but then the embargo was extended to 36 hours. The United States and the United Kingdom had agreed to suppress the news to allow Russia to stage a second ceremony in Berlin. But when Kennedy heard that German radio had announced the 12-hour-old surrender, he considered the embargo broken and he alone among the 16 reporters sent his story an hour later – producing what is considered the biggest scoop in AP history. He did not tell his superiors about the embargo. He was rebuked and then fired.

Panelists at the discussion, attended by many OPC members, disagreed over whether Kennedy had acted properly.

John Darnton, a former foreign correspondent and editor for The New York Times, said Kennedy was treated shabbily but because "AP management was wrong, does not mean Kennedy was right." He said Kennedy should have told AP about the embargo and also could have talked to other reporters to create a "united front" to the military to lift the secrecy.

But former AP foreign correspondent George Bria cited the "rat race" competition of wire services and said Kennedy made the right decision once the embargo was broken. "He had to have it first and right, and he did the right thing as far as I’m concerned," Bria said.

In his memoirs, Kennedy wrote: "My deliberations hinged mainly on the moral aspects of the question: Which course did my duty as a reporter dictate – subservience to political censorship which was contrary to the principle of a free press and in violation of the word of the government and the Army or action which I believed right and which I knew would bring plenty of trouble upon my head?"

Others on the panel were Richard Fine, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee.

Julia Kennedy Cochran, who had worked as a journalist for the AP, Reuters and Business Week, said her family appreciated the apology from Curley and it would have meant a lot to her father, who died in a traffic accident in 1963.