AP apologizes for firing reporter over WWII scoop

By David B. Caruso

Associated Press

Published: Friday, May 4 2012 12:35 a.m. MDT

To some of Kennedy's competitors, the scoop was a betrayal on the scale of Pearl Harbor. Compounding their anger, military censors continued to refuse to allow any other news organization to send their own stories, meaning the AP would continue to have an exclusive for a day.

"I am browned off, fed up, burnt up and put out," wrote Drew Middleton, a New York Times correspondent. He called the suppression of the story "the most colossal 'snafu' in the history of the war." His newspaper followed with an editorial chastising the AP for initially boasting of a historic "news beat."

"If it was a 'beat,'" the paper wrote, "it was one only because Mr. Kennedy's sixteen colleagues chose to stand by their commitments."

Retribution was swift. 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.

Condemnation also came from the AP's president at the time, Robert McLean.

"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," he said in a public statement on May 10.

The AP's general manager, Kent Cooper, said Kennedy should have conferred with his editors about the decision to publish. Later, he addressed a letter to the reporter saying that he had violated a "cardinal principle" of journalism by breaking a pledge to keep the surrender confidential.

"No employee of the Associated Press has the right to disregard what is defined by the source as a pledge of confidence, when he knows that those who meant to impose it still hold it to be in force," he said.

Other journalists defended Kennedy. In an essay in The New Yorker, published May 19, 1945, under the subhead "The AP Surrender," A.J. Liebling absolved Kennedy of breaking the "pledge" he had supposedly made aboard the aircraft flying to Reims.

"Whether a promise extorted as this one was, in an airplane several thousand feet up, has any moral force is a question for the theologians," Liebling wrote. "I suppose that Kennedy should have refused to promise anything and thus made sure of missing an event that no newspaperman in the world would want to miss, but I can't imagine any correspondent's doing it."

Wes Gallagher, the AP reporter who succeeded Kennedy in Europe and became the general manager in 1962, strongly supported his colleague and believed he had done the right thing.

Upon replacing Kennedy in Paris, Gallagher told the supreme commander of Allied forces, future president Dwight D. Eisenhower, that "If I'd been Kennedy, I'd have done the same thing — except that I'd have telephoned you first," according to an account by the late AP correspondent John Hightower.

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.

"Some people said after the war, 'Oh, Ed Kennedy is a broken man. He's out there editing some little newspaper in California.' I think people had this idea that he was feeling sorry for himself. But he wasn't. He wasn't the kind of person who sat around and felt sorry."

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.

"They did the right thing," Curley said. "They stood up to power."

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