It was the scoop of Edward Kennedy’s career. The one that cemented his place in journalism history. And the one that cost him his job at The Associated Press and his standing in the national press.
It was 1945, and Kennedy, head of the AP’s Paris bureau, had information that would soon be plastered over every newspaper in America.
He rung up the cigarette smoke-filled London office on a crackly military phone line with these words: “Germany has surrendered unconditionally. That’s surrendered unconditionally. That’s official. Make the date Reims, France, and get it out.”
World War II was over. In some ways, so was Kennedy’s career.
What happened? The story is told in Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship, and The Associated Press, a memoir of Kennedy’s AP days edited by his daughter Julia Kennedy Cochran. This week she returns to Monterey to discuss the memoir at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.
After the V-E Day story ran, Kennedy was fired from the AP. Some years later he became an editor and publisher of the Monterey Peninsula Herald (now the Monterey County Herald), and built that paper into a community pillar. But he wouldn’t return to the national stage. He died of injuries after he was hit by a car in 1963.
Kennedy’s war time – or post-war – crime: Reporting the news over the heads of censors, explain recently retired AP President Tom Curley and Louisiana State University Provost John Maxwell Hamilton in the memoir’s introduction. He broke the news before he was officially allowed to do so.
Kennedy and 16 other correspondents in France were allowed to witness Germany’s surrender, but on the condition they’d hold the story. Half a day later Kennedy heard a German broadcast on the radio announcing the surrender. The journalist decided then that the embargo was irrelevant. He felt the request to hold the story was a political one – not a military one – and that breaking the news could save lives. Fighting, after all, was still going on in several areas. Censors be damned; Kennedy had an obligation to the truth, not to the politicians.
The backlash was brutal. His fellow correspondents – jealous perhaps – condemned him for “the most disgraceful, deliberate, and unethical double-cross in the history of journalism.” Editorial pages panned him, and Kennedy had to fight for his broken reputation without the support of his company.
In 2012 – 67 years later – the AP apologized for not standing by its reporter.
Curley and Hamilton write: “Kennedy was the embodiment of the highest aspirations of The Associated Press and American journalism.”
The AP’s loss was Monterey’s gain. After the incident, Kennedy managed, somewhat, to clear his name, and headed west to work at local papers. He took the Herald, a rinky-dink daily, and transformed it into a respectable publication that spurred community conversation on national and global events. Soon after he took the helm, the paper began winning awards from the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association, says Cochran.
Cochran recalls her father’s office at the Herald: There was a glass door overseeing the busy newsroom, and a brown leather chair where Kennedy worked at his wooden desk.
Behind his desk was a framed front page of the New York Times with his World War II scoop.
In the memoir, Kennedy recounts his journey to California in a chapter called “Westward Ho!” Monterey, he wrote, reminded him of some of the more beautiful Mediterranean towns he’d seen.
“He could have been a bitter person, considering what happened to him, but I don’t think he was bitter,” Cochran says. “He just tried to get on with his life and do the best job he could where he was.”
Some journalists now believe Kennedy should be awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his work. More than 60 journalists, including several from the San Francisco Chronicle, have signed up for the Ed Kennedy Project, a movement to get Kennedy the highest journalism award.
“It’s very moving for me to have so many journalists supporting the effort,” she says. “All these people just came out of nowhere. I don’t even know most of them. It just shows that this case is really a freedom of the press issue, which is still a very important issue.”
Kennedy’s memoir tells his story of the war, from Paris 1935 and on. His writing is introspective, analytical and – as should be the case in a reporter’s book – full of facts. He details with clarity and wit his travels, the gut-wrenching scenarios he encountered, and finally, the scoop that changed his life, and how he’d made the decision to report it.
In the final pages of his book, Kennedy reflects on his wartime hope that with the end of World War II, “this time things would be different.” The world would not again be thrown into the chaos and bloodshed that marked so much of the first half of the 20th century.
And yet, as Kennedy was finishing his memoir, he was witness to new international rivalries, new disputes.
“I have no prescription to cure the world’s tension and the people’s sense of frustration,” he wrote. “But I can assuage my own by throwing all my efforts into trying to put out the best and most honest newspaper I can.”
JULIA KENNEDY COCHRAN speaks about her father’s memoir 2:30pm Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, 165 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove. Admission is free. 648-5716, www.pgmuseum.org.
• On Saturday, Jan. 19, the Arts Council for Monterey County filled one of the ballrooms of the Portola Hotel & Spa with about 200 supporters and special guests for the eighth Champions of the Arts awards gala. Some of the highlights in a fine evening of highlights included a solid show of musical dexterity by Grammy Award-winning songwriter Orlando Castro and Mambo Tropical, Magnus Toren’s goofy self-made video introduction (for which he apologized when receiving the award for Henry Miller Memorial Library), emcee Garland Thompson who kept the evening rolling, and the standing ovation for Tim Jackson and his work as Artistic Director of the Monterey Jazz Festival (he also founded Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz).
• Priceless advice for nonprofits is offered by the Community Foundation for Monterey County’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE), which proffers the organizational expertise of the Stanford Alumni Consulting Team (SACT) who volunteer to help local nonprofits in the areas of financial systems, board development, marketing and strategic business analysis. Organizations must apply by Thursday, Jan. 31 at www.csmco.org.
• The Monterey County Chapter of Guitars Not Guns celebrates some 2012 milestones, including receiving 128 donated guitars for 15 of their 8-week free guitar classes, for kids 8-18, all to encourage them to pick up music in place of drugs, alcohol or gang influences. The kids, who are taught the fundamentals of guitar music by volunteer instructors, get to keep their guitar after completion of class. But the nonprofit is not taking 5 just yet – they plan to expand this year into Chualar, Soledad and King City. To donate time or supplies, email email@example.com or send contributions to Guitars Not Guns, c/o SLV Management, P.O. Box 101, Monterey, CA 93942
• On Monday afternoon, Jan. 21, a couple hundred local citizens amassed for Seaside’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. March. The start of the march was at, appropriately, Noche Buena and Broadway, aka Obama Way, and thoughts of the 44th president of the United States, who had just been inaugurated for his second term earlier that morning, were not far from the minds or conversations of community members. The march took place under a bright afternoon sun, a long, wide procession moving forward across Seaside to Oldemeyer Center for presentations and speeches.
• Under Ede Sabo’s stewardships, the kids of Monterey High School Theater have consistently come up with novel, daring and substantial stuff over the years. But their upcoming production of Peter Pan (not the most novel, daring or substantial fare, but keep an eye on future productions) is postponed until asbestos “among one of the old light fixtures” is investigated and cleaned up. Watch their website, www.MontereyHighDrama.com, for updates.