But it was the biggest scoop of his career — Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender — that ruined his career. And a determined group of prominent journalists wants to do something about that.
They want Kennedy to be posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a recognition of a singular moment of courage when a star correspondent defied political and military censorship to file one of the biggest stories of the century.
“The way a craft evolves is that somebody has to define the edges, the boundaries,” says Kim Komenich, a Pulitzer-winning news photographer who is among 54 journalists pressing for Kennedy to receive a Pulitzer. “Ed got it right.”
On May 6, 1945, U.S. military officials ushered Kennedy and 16 other correspondents onto a plane in Paris. The plane was airborne before they learned the purpose of the trip: They were flying to Reims, France, to witness the signing of surrender documents ending the largest conflict in world history.
Kennedy chafed at being controlled. The reporters on the plane were “seventeen trained seals,” he observed acidly in a memoir, “Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship, & the Associated Press,” that was published this spring, nearly a half-century after his death.
Their military handlers insisted that news of the signing be kept secret for several hours. But after they returned to Paris, the embargo was extended. Not for security reasons, which might have been an acceptable rationale, but for political reasons, Kennedy learned. It turned out that Russia’s leader, Joseph Stalin, wanted to stage a signing ceremony of his own to claim partial credit for the surrender, and U.S. officials were interested in helping him have his moment of glory.
The correspondents complained, but the military wasn’t budging. They had to hold the story. But then something happened that changed Kennedy’s mind and his life. He got word of a German radio report announcing the surrender.
The story was out, but the U.S. censors were holding fast.
Kennedy went to his room at the Hotel Scribe and stewed for 15 minutes. Then he found a military phone that he happened to know wasn’t monitored by censors. At 3:24 in the afternoon, he placed a call to AP’s London bureau.
“Germany has surrendered unconditionally,” he said, according to an account of the call by AP’s outgoing president, Tom Curley. “That’s official. Make the date[line] Reims, and get it out.”
Ed Kennedy’s story ran big in newspapers around the world. It should have been his greatest moment, but it became an ordeal. The military revoked his credentials, but that was the least of the indignities. His fellow correspondents turned on him, voting 54 to 2 to condemn him. And the head of AP — the Philadelphia Bulletin’s publisher, Robert McLean — apologized for Kennedy’s report rather than praising him.