Did AP correspondent Edward Kennedy do the right thing in reporting Germany’s surrender on May 7, 1945 in violation of censorship?
Sixty-seven years after the fact, the Associated Press has apologized for firing its World War II correspondent Edward Kennedy over his reporting Germany’s surrender on May 7, 1945, in violation of a pledge made by him and 16 other reporters to keep a lid on the news for another day. The reason for the pledge was that the Allied authorities wanted to give the Russians a chance to hold their own surrender ceremony in Berlin prior to the announcement of Germany’s surrender to the U.S. and Britain.
It’s a fascinating tale, raising questions of journalistic ethics that are well worth pondering. As I see it, there are are two distinct issues here: First, was the AP ethically required to keep the lid on the monumental news, notwithstanding the fact that the reporters had only pledged to remain silent for a few hours but the military authorities then unilaterally extended the period to 36 hours, while they also allowed the Germans to announce the surrender? Second, was Kennedy wrong in going rogue and telephoning the news to the AP’s London office without telling them about the pledge to secrecy? AP’s current president, Tom Curley, says that Kennedy “did everything just right.” Based on the facts as presented in the article, I do not agree. By passing the story on to his editors but keeping them in the dark about the secrecy pledge, Kennedy fooled his employer, the AP, into taking a step that they would most likely not have taken had they known all the facts. As punishment for the AP’s breaking the secrecy pledge, the military authorities excluded the AP from the European theater. Indeed, the other news organizations were so angry at the AP for publishing the news a day ahead of them that when the military moved to lift the ban on the AP, some months later, they insisted that it be maintained.
Now Kennedy may have reasonably believed that the news of the surrender was too important to suppress and that there was no good reason to keep suppressing it for another day. But surely he also knew that by keeping his editors in the dark about the secrecy pledge he had committed a firing offense. Arguably he did the right thing. But he also clearly deserved to be fired. For the AP now to apologize for firing him and to say that he “did everything just right” is a reflection of the current liberal culture which makes heroes of people who transgress authority. An ethically mature man, the Aristotelian spoudaios, may on occasion feel obligated to disobey authority for the sake of the larger good. But he also knows that he must accept the consequences for doing so. By apologizing for their dismissal of Kennedy, the AP has destroyed that spiritual tension in which a true sense of ethics is kept alive.
(a) the right thing to do in the larger sense of publishing this monumental news to the world, but still dishonest and harmful to his employer, and therefore he should have been fired.
(b) the right thing to do in every sense. Not only should he be praised for getting the story out, but the AP should not have fired him, even though he misled the organization and caused it serious harm and embarrassment.
(c) the wrong thing to do. It was dishonest of Kennedy to fool his employer into publishing a story which, had he told them the entire background, they would not have published.
My view, based on the available facts, is (c).
You like to hear about coincidences and synchronicities.Jim G. writes:
I did not even need to read your column. Skimming, I picked up “Did … Edward Kennedy do the right thing … ?” and instinctively knew the answer had to be “no.”
Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 07, 2012 10:18 AM | Send