The Associated Press apologized on Friday to the family of a Second World War correspondent who was fired after delivering the scoop of the century. He was the first to report by a full day that the Germans had surrendered.
Reporter Edward Kennedy was one of 17 reporters at the historic signing in the early morning hours of May 7, 1945, when the Germans gave up the fight. As a condition of being allowed to see the surrender in person, they essentially agreed to withhold the news until it had been authorized by the top military brass at Allied headquarters. At first, it was to be a short delay. Then, the reporters were told it would be at least one more day.
It’s hard to believe that something of such magnitude might have been withheld for so long, especially today in the world of online news, but even then Mr. Kennedy knew that was wrong. He was furious about the delay. He broke the news, infuriating the military censors and officials, his fellow war correspondents from other news organizations and his company which said Mr. Kennedy had broken a “cardinal rule” of journalism by breaking a pledge to keep the surrender confidential.
But did he break that cardinal rule? Absolutely not. As the Associated Press’s current president Tom Curley said, Mr. Kennedy upheld the highest principles of journalism by standing up to power. “He did everything just right.”
So why did he break that rule? It’s quite simple really. The embargo had already been broken. At 2 p.m. on that same day (May 7), the surrender was announced by German officials on a radio broadcast in a city in Allied hands. As this story says, Mr. Kennedy knew the transmission had been authorized by the military censors who were insisting that he and the other journalists wait.
At that point, as with all embargoes, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is open for everyone to cover. And those other 16 journalists who agreed to the embargo should have understood that.
Today, The Globe and Mail and I’m sure all other media would do the same. Our standards say we will be bound only by the restrictions to which we have agreed and that we can ignore such conditions on unsolicited materials. But they also say, “if am embargo is broken elsewhere, all bets are off.”
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