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  • Associated Press file, 1944

    Ed Kennedy, seen covering the 1944 Battle of Anzio, Italy, defied Allied military censors by reporting Germany's surrender on May 7, 1945. He was stripped of his credentials and sent back to the United States. The Associated Press didn't back its reporter and just recently said that decision was wrong.

  • Joe Livernois

On the Media: Gutsy reporter took on Allied command in 1945

Published: Sunday, May. 13, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3E

Monday marked the 67th anniversary of the end of war with Germany.

On that day generations ago, a veteran war correspondent for the Associated Press named Edward Kennedy committed a heroic act of journalism when he violated a military embargo, circumvented military censors and sent his dispatch that declared the war was over.

He had given the world an extra day of happiness.

It was the last story Kennedy wrote for the Associated Press. He ended his career in journalism editing the daily newspaper in Monterey.

On May 4, AP issued a formal apology to Kennedy's daughter in Oregon for the news organization's panicked reaction to the controversy that followed his "scoop."

"It was handled in the worst possible way," said Tom Curley, AP president and CEO.

Kennedy, who had been covering conflict in Europe for a decade and who was the AP bureau chief in Paris at the time, was one of 17 correspondents who witnessed the signing of surrender documents in a little schoolhouse in Reims, France.

All 17 correspondents were instructed by their military minders not to send news of the surrender for 36 hours.

All had operated under the iron fist of military censorship for years. But the embargo on the greatest story that can ever be reported from a war – the war is over! – was strictly political.

Russia had scheduled its own surrender ceremony, for its propaganda purposes. The United States, desperate to maintain good relations with Russia, issued the embargo so that Russia could maximize the impact of its own dog-and-pony show.

In a fit of conscience, Kennedy and his office workers secured a back-channel phone line to AP offices in London, and he dictated his story after returning from Reims.

In Kennedy's view, the decision was a no-brainer. How many soldiers and citizens might die in battle in a 36-hour period following surrender if the news was not released? Kennedy was never happy with military censorship – he railed against it at every opportunity – but he had been willing to follow orders when it was proved that troop safety or military strategy was at risk. He was not willing to abide political expedience.

The reaction to his "scoop" was immediate. The military pulled Kennedy's credentials, and he was threatened with legal sanctions. The United States ordered the Associated Press to cease operations in Europe briefly.

The Associated Press refused to back its reporter. It issued an apology to the military. It recalled Kennedy to New York City. It refused to fire him, refused to accept his resignation.

Reaction among his colleagues was equally galling. Fifty-four reporters covering Supreme Allied Headquarters in Europe sent a petition to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower calling Kennedy's act "the most disgraceful, deliberate, unethical double-cross in the history of journalism."

Eisenhower eventually exonerated Kennedy without fanfare.

But the damage had been done. He was all but blackballed from the major media outlets. He eventually was hired as an executive at the newspaper in Santa Barbara and, later, at the Monterey Herald.

He died in Monterey in 1963.

Kennedy rarely spoke publicly about the episode, saying he "tried not to become embittered or imagine myself a martyr," he said.

Curley now acknowledges that Kennedy had every right to be bitter. And he declared that Kennedy and his subordinates upheld the highest principles of journalism.

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

Today, as economy and evolving media priorities chip away at the public's expectations of journalism in the United States, the Kennedy story is a reminder that the value of journalism is only as strong as the valor of journalists.

The recent trend to politicize and demean journalism – along with unfortunate abuses and missteps by its worst purveyors – diminishes the merit of an unfettered free press in a free society.

Kennedy was able to get out of the war with his life, if not his career. But not all do. Hundreds of journalists around the world today risk their lives because, like Kennedy, they are unwilling to sacrifice their principles.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 912 journalists have been killed in their pursuit of truth against the agents of inequity during the past decade. Countless others take courageous stands daily against those who would censor them, whether it's the king of Bahrain or the local bully mayor.

They stand up to power.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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