The provocative story of what happened when an Associated Press reporter broke the news that Germany had signed an unconditional surrender, ending World War II, came across my desk this week — by random coincidence, at the same time controversy was breaking out over the recent revelation that the Department of Justice had secretly obtained records of 20 A.P. phone lines.
The wartime reporter, Edward Kennedy, was one of only three members of the American press allowed to witness the signing, and, like all three, was allowed to do so only on the condition that he hold the story until its release was approved by the brigadier general in charge, Frank A. Allen Jr.
According to his own account, Mr. Kennedy deliberated “which course did my duty as a reporter dictate — subservience to a political dictatorship, 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. . . .”
The news of war’s end went out over the A.P. wires just a few minutes before editors learned that the Germans had announced the armistice in a radio broadcast several hours earlier. It had also already been broadcast in 24 languages, including English, via the American Broadcasting Station in Europe.
Mr. Kennedy did not know it at the time, but history makes clear, that the army had decided to allow Russia to announce the surrender at a later ceremony in Berlin, a concession granted for (apparently misguided) political reasons. The Soviet announcement was the beginning of Russia’s dominance in Eastern Europe — and the Cold War.
Even though the A.P. had congratulated itself on its historic scoop, it did not stand by its reporter. He had defied military censorship, and he was censured and then fired. Eventually, he became the editor of papers in California.
The New York Times, which had (naturally) used the A.P. story on page one with huge headlines, nevertheless also found fault with him. In an editorial two days later, The Times said he had done a “grave disservice to the newspaper profession.”
I wonder what its editorial board would say about that today.
In an article that came out in The New Yorker only a few weeks after the armistice, A.J. Liebling, the legendary newspaper critic and accomplished war correspondent (and onetime resident of Springs), wrote, “I do not think Kennedy imperiled the lives of any Allied soldiers . . . as some of his critics have charged. He probably saved a few, because by withholding the announcement of an armistice you prolong the shooting. . . .”
Mr. Kennedy, who is no longer alive, was nominated this year for a posthumous Pulitzer Prize, or a citation, with the idea that such recognition would serve to correct what those who nominated him called “a major journalistic and public-policy wrong.” Nothing came of it.
The only public recognition Mr. Kennedy has received is engraved on a memorial sundial in Laguna Grande Park in Seaside, Calif. It reads: “He saved the world an extra day of happiness.”