The Makings of History / A Costly Scoop

Nazi Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, 65 years ago this week, and that afternoon the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth put out a special edition with a giant headline: "Fire has ceased." The next day the New York Times put a rare exclamation point at the end of its four-line headline, which spanned the width of the front page. Haaretz made do with six out of seven columns: "War throughout Europe is over." The paper called it "the six-year war."

Among the headlines that captured one of the greatest dramas in history that day, such as, "10 million Germans in Allied captivity," and, "The search for Hitler's corpse," the editor of Haaretz's front page also found room for the story behind the story, under the heading: "The first news." The first report of the capitulation was a scoop belonging to Edward Kennedy, not the late U.S. senator, but a correspondent for the Associated Press. But that scoop, one of the most famous in press history, cost Kennedy his job.

Haaretz reported: "The telegram reporting the surrender was filed by Kennedy from Paris on the AP's special wire to the London bureau, and from there it was sent to New York after it passed the British censor. The bulletin was dispatched immediately to American newspapers by teleprinter and telegraph. Only later did the announcement come from General Eisenhower's headquarters that it had not given journalists any permission to publish news of the surrender ..." The use of the ellipsis conveyed the editor's view of the story: Even in those long-gone days of the telegraph and teleprinter, there was something ridiculous about Eisenhower's attempt to delay publication of the news that war was over.

In the career of the American general, who was destined to be elected president of the United States, this was a lost battle: His British rival, Montgomery, had already secured the signatures of German generals on partial surrender documents three days before the big surrender to Eisenhower, and hastened to present the papers he'd received to the press.

The formal signing of the document of surrender at General Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims, France, took place early on the morning of Monday, May 7, and was supposed to take effect the following day, May 8. Meanwhile, the Russians demanded their share of the glory, so it was agreed that a second ceremony would be held in Berlin. Until then, the press was required to hold off reporting on the first one.

The 17 correspondents who were present complied with the embargo; only Edward Kennedy, who was the AP's Paris bureau chief, did what he should have done: News of the Germans' surrender could put a stop to the fighting and thereby save lives. That was Kennedy's primary justification. He had another reason: News of the surrender was broadcast on German radio before he spread the word.

But nearly all of his colleagues, including the editors of the New York Times, condemned him. Doubtless they were envious. Time Magazine claimed that Kennedy had jeopardized freedom of the press. Everyone wanted his head. He was recalled to New York, forced to be idle for several months, and was eventually fired. AP now has a Web site recounting the agency's history. Kennedy's scoop is described as "touching off a bitter episode that leads to his eventual dismissal by the AP."

A little more than a year after that episode, Kennedy was exonerated when the U.S. Senate received internal military documents confirming that the Germans had indeed announced the surrender on the radio, an hour and 54 minutes before Kennedy filed his bulletin. After he was fired from AP, Kennedy worked as an editor at two local newspapers in California, and in November 1963 he died, after being struck by a car. He was 58.