Doing your job can be dangerous: Ed Kennedy's story
Sometimes, doing a job well can lead to ruin, rather than recognition, for exercising one’s profession conscientiously and well. Such was the case with Edward Kennedy, an Associated Press reporter who had the good or bad fortune to announce the close of the most important event of the mid-20th century: the Second World War. Kennedy’s fall from grace occurred during the pre-dawn hours of May 7, 1945, as he and fellow journalists witnessed the unconditional surrender by Nazi Germany in Reims, an historic city in northern France.
The Western allied forces had decreed an embargo on informing the public about the surrender, ostensibly in order to prevent any frictions with the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the news began to circulate on German radio stations and allow Nazis and high-level German officials to abandon the country and escape prosecution for war crimes. Having noted that the Germans had not respected the agreement for silence about the surrender, Kennedy drafted and breaking story that he dictated to the AP office in London and announced the official end to the global war. In his memoir, “Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship & the Associated Press,” Kennedy described how he found a military telephone that was not monitored by censors and placed the call to AP, saying “Germany has surrendered unconditionally. That’s official. Make the date Reims, and get it out.”
Kennedy personified the hard-drinking, just-get-the-facts journalism that made him a star on the AP circuit. His first wife recalled meeting him for the first time in Paris at the end of the war where he and author Ernest Hemingway had drunk themselves into a stupor at a bar. But his halcyon days as a risk-taking war correspondent were soon at an end.
Certain authorities in the U.S. were piqued by Kennedy’s apparent violation of the embargo. Some months later, even though by May 1945 it had promoted Kennedy to lead the agency at its Paris office, AP fired Kennedy and revoked his press credentials. The erstwhile head of AP even apologized for Kennedy’s report on the war’s end.
The leading newspapers of the day, and the majority of his colleagues, turned their backs on him: 54 out of 56 fellow journalists voted to condemn him. For years, he was able to get employment only small local newspapers. And in 1961 he was to die after being struck by a car while out on a walk near Monterey CA.
It was not until May 2012 that AP apologized for firing Kennedy, having recognized that the news service had committed a great error. According to the Washington Post, Kim Komenich - one of the journalists calling for Kennedy’s recognition – said “The way a craft evolves is that somebody has to define the edges, the boundaries…Ed got it right.”
Now, some 67 years after Kennedy wrote perhaps the greatest scoop in AP history, 54 notable journalists have begun a campaign to recognize Kennedy’s famous exclusive with a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.
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