Book Rap on AP breach of 1945 embargo sparks journalism ethics discussion
May 13, 2012 | By Heather Forsgren Weaver | HeatherForsgrenWeaver@gmail.com
Associated Press (AP) correspondent Ed Kennedy broke a military embargo in 1945 to announce the end of war in Europe, an action examined at a National Press Club Book Rap May 9.
The Book Rap presented Kennedy's memoir, "Ed Kennedy's War: V-E Day, Censorship and the Associated Press."
In May 1945, British and American military leaders invited 17 reporters, including Kennedy, to witness the signing that ended the war with the Germans in Reims, France. This signing, unlike the one on May 8 in Berlin, was not attended by the Russians.
The British and Americans military leaders imposed an embargo on the story to give the Russians time to simultaneously announce the German surrender, which occurred with the Berlin ceremony.
Kennedy agreed to the embargo but after hearing an announcement on a German radio station controlled by the Allies, he asked the military censor if he could publish. He was turned down. Since he believed the embargo was being enforced for political and not military reasons, he called London on an unsecured military line with the story.
The other reporters protested Kennedy’s action and the AP president rebuked Kennedy. He was recalled from Europe and was quietly fired later that year.
“One of the things that is clear is that you look at the facts, you put them in the public and you find out what you did right and what you did wrong and you go forward” said Tom Curley, AP outgoing president and CEO.
Curley and John Maxwell Hamilton, executive vice-chancellor and provost of Louisiana State University, wrote the forward to the book.
AP “clearly got caught in really a bad management spiral,” Hamilton said. “They hoped it would go away.”
“Which kind of happened for 67 years,” Curley added.
After leaving AP, Kennedy became managing editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press and publisher of the Monterrey Peninsula Herald. He tried unsuccessfully to publish his memoirs and obtain an apology from the AP. He died in a traffic accident in 1963.
His daughter, Julia Kennedy Cochran, appeared at the Book Rap and introduced Curley.
“It was with some trepidation that I wrote to Tom Curley for help,” Cochran told the audience.
To coincide with the memoir's publication and the V-E anniversary, on May 4, AP apologized. “It was handled in the worst possible way” Curley said in the apology.
Curley first heard about the incident when he joined AP in 2003. He was told that AP had not updated its history since 1940 and one of the reasons was what happened with Ed Kennedy in 1945.
“Here was admittedly political censorship in clear-cut violation of the cardinal point of American censorship – as enunciated from the White House down – that it would be limited to matters of genuine military security,” Kennedy wrote in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1948. Copies of the Atlantic article were available at the Rap.
Cochran has donated her father’s papers to the AP’s corporate archives.