February 8, 2024

1945. Associated Press Breaks Allied News Embargo on German Surrender

Controversy and Criticism Over Associated Press Scoop
"The Associated Press journalist Edward Kennedy (Sam Goldstein / AP)" (source)

From Newsweek, May 14, 1945, pp. 80-82:

Kennedy of AP Scoops Whole World but Writers Call Him Double Crosser

As a veteran Associated Press man put it: "The Old Lady certainly came back." But for nerve-racking hours he couldn't be sure.

The horrendously wrong V-E Day report out of San Francisco on April 28 (Newsweek, May 7) still was a raw memory on Monday this week when the London Printer in the AP's tense New York office coughed out this flash: "Allies officially announced Germany surrendered unconditionally."

Glenn Babb, the AP's foreign news editor, hesitated until succeeding bulletins bore out the flash, then ordered: "Let it go."

The AP desk's reaction was duplicated in newsrooms throughout the country, but one minute after the flash at 9:35 a.m. (EWT), the AP sent a bulletin that mollified fears. It read:


Adds to Kennedy's bulletin unfolded the details swiftly, simply, and convincingly (see page 31). But news editors, still groggy from the ten-day-old AP boner, still almost numb after a month's record of war news, now were jittery. International News Service and United Press, twitting AP only ten days before, could help with no official confirmation. Nor would Washington, London, or Moscow. Supreme Allied headquarters in Paris angrily suspended AP's sending privileges.* These later were restored for all AP men except Kennedy. But no one denied the facts in Kennedy's story.

'Get It Out': With fingers crossed, news editors extraed the from coast to coast. Radio stations interrupted programs, but labeled the report unofficial. The AP continued to have its jitters, but stood pat—convinced its 39-year-old veteran correspondent had the biggest beat in history.

But on Tuesday, 54 irate correspondents at SHAEF charged Kennedy with violating a pledge not to break the news until SHAEF cleared it. His beat, their petition to General Eisenhower said, was the "most disgraceful, deliberate, and unethical double cross in the history of journalism." Official Washington shared this view.

Earlier, Roy Howard, head of Scripps-Howard newspapers and himself the victim in the UP's premature Armistice flash in 1918, had protested the AP's punishment in a telegram to President Truman. He was wiring, Howard said, "as a correspondent in the last war who was personally pilloried and whose organization was unjustly condemned for doing a legitimate reporting job."

From Paris, Relman Morin, Kennedy's AP colleague, said most of the correspondents at SHAEF had congratulated Kennedy on his beat—even though it was at their expense. Here's how it came about, as Morin told it:

Kennedy returned from Rheims with 1,500 words of his story cleared by a field censor. He wrote the rest in Paris and filed it with SHAEF. Then Paris began to buzz with the news. When the Germans broadcast it from Flensburg, Kennedy went to the censors and demanded they free his story. His argument: There no longer was any question of military security and SHAEF could hold him to no considerations of political censorship. Turned down on his demand, Kennedy bluntly warned the censors he would try to get the story out.

Then he telephoned it to the AP's London Bureau. "This is official, get it out," he barked. Censors in London cleared it as a routine relay.

Too Many Headlines: The Brooklyn-born Kennedy quit the study of architecture at Carnegie Tech to take up newspaper work twenty years ago. He went to Paris for the AP in 1935 and his newspaper odyssey since has taken him through the Spanish civil war, the conquests of Yugoslavia and Greece, the North African battles, Sicily, Italy, and back into France.

His beat this week climaxed ten days of the biggest news breaks since the war began. News editors could remember nothing like the week before V-E Day. It had been one of cumulative surrenders in which, for instance, the fall of Rangoon, the invasion of Dutch Borneo, President Truman's first Cabinet appointment and veto (upheld), and the anthracite-coal walkout could get but secondary headlines.

Radio's Part: In Europe, news was made as well as broadcast by radio during the momentous week preceding the V-E announcement. It was Radio Hamburg that carried the news of Hitler's death and Admiral Karl Doenitz's succession. Four days later, Bill Downs, CBS correspondent, broadcast from the same studios.

The radios of the Allied and neutral capitals in Europe played the week's news with composure and, unlike American networks, waited for official confirmation of victory before going all out.

In the United States elaborately planned V-E programs—in the making since D-Day—remained on the shelf as news came in fragments throughout week. Only extra news programs indicated the growing excitement over the German piecemeal collapse. Then on Monday the networks and most of the independent stations carried the AP flash. Morning schedules were hashed, but by mid-afternoon the networks had resumed commercials while newsrooms waited on tenterhooks. Don Goddard of NBC voiced radio's dilemma when he said on Monday morning: "We are staying on the air expecting some kind of an announcement from some headquarters somewhere."

When the official announcement finally came, all networks and stations hauled out their special programs—which now served only as a weary anticlimax to the rumors of the preceding ten days.


* Another AP worry: The Chicago Sun's London bureau reported that virtually all London papers began a boycott of AP news as of Sunday. London and AP sources refused comment; the United Press carried nothing on the boycott.