Panel discusses AP reporter’s decision to report WWII surrender, defying military censors

By DEEPTI HAJELA, Associated Press May 8, 2012
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Moderator Jack Hamilton, left, addresses the audience as fellow panelists listen during a panel discussion entitled "Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship and The Associated Press,” Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at Associated Press Headquarters in New York. Seated from second left are panelists John Darnton, George Bria, Richard Fine and Sally Buzbee. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
NEW YORK — Speakers at a panel on Tuesday disagreed over whether a correspondent for The Associated Press who defied military censors by reporting that the Germans had surrendered unconditionally in World War II had acted properly.

Edward Kennedy was fired by the AP in 1945 after he became the first journalist to send a firsthand account of the surrender in Reims, France, that he and 16 other journalists witnessed. As a condition of seeing it, they made a pledge to keep it secret for a time, as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Harry Truman had agreed to suppress news of the capitulation for a day. That was to allow Russian dictator Josef Stalin to stage a second surrender ceremony in Berlin.

After it was reported on the radio in Europe, Kennedy defied military officials and sent his account to AP’s London bureau, without briefing his editors about the embargo situation.

Retired foreign correspondent John Darnton said Tuesday that he questioned why Kennedy took that tack.

“Why didn’t he let AP know what he was doing?” Darnton asked, adding that by not doing so Kennedy “was kind of usurping that decision-making power, which in my mind should have been left to people higher up inside AP.”

But former AP foreign correspondent George Bria said Kennedy made the right decision in the competitive news atmosphere.

“He had to have it first and right, and he did the right thing as far as I’m concerned,” Bria said.

The panel was held at AP headquarters.

AP President and CEO Tom Curley recently apologized for the news agency’s decision to fire Kennedy, and on Tuesday he said, “His conduct was absolutely the right thing to do and beyond reproach.”

Curley, who is retiring this year, has also co-written an introduction to Kennedy’s newly published memoir, “Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship & The Associated Press.”

After Kennedy broke the news, the military briefly suspended the AP’s ability to dispatch any news from the European theater. When that ban was lifted, more than 50 of Kennedy’s fellow war correspondents signed a protest letter asking that it be reinstated. The military expelled Kennedy from France.

AP’s management at the time condemned him as well, leading to his firing.

Kennedy later 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 in 1963, when he was hit by a car.

Others on the panel included Louisiana State University Provost Jack Hamilton, Virginia Commonwealth University Professor Richard Fine and AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee.

AP Video of the discussion is here: http://bit.ly/JellNv.

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