A copy of The New York Times published May 8, 1945, bearing Kennedy's scoop (AP/Rick Bowmer)
On May 7, 1945, Associated Press Paris bureau chief Ed Kennedy set off one of the biggest journalism controversies of the 20th century. Nazi Germany had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies early that morning in a schoolhouse in Reims. Unbelievable as it may seem today, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower imposed a news blackout on the surrender, under orders from President Truman. Big official secrets were more keep-able then--but not always. Kennedy had access to an unauthorized phone line. Gambling his career, he used that line to break the surrender story. His exclusive, eyewitness account of the ceremony got huge news play and led to mass rejoicing in Paris, London, New York, and elsewhere.
For the gaunt, intense Kennedy, it became the scoop from Hell. Allied headquarters stripped away his press credentials, denounced him personally for defying the rules, and banished him to New York, where the AP fired him. Meanwhile, 54 rival reporters who had abided by the news embargo signed a statement branding Kennedy a double-crosser. The label lingered. In 1960, Walter Cronkite of CBS, a former United Press war correspondent, refused to stand when Kennedy offered his hand, according to a journalist who witnessed the encounter.
Kennedy tried for years to repair his damaged reputation, publishing a lengthy self-defense in the Atlantic ("I'd Do It Again," August 1948.) Among other points, Kennedy argued that Ike had not ordered the blackout for legitimate reasons of military security. He had done so for political reasons that did not justify censorship. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin wanted to stage a second surrender ceremony in Berlin - to sell the illusion that the Nazis had surrendered first to the Soviets. He did not want his propaganda ceremony overshadowed by news of the authentic surrender in Reims. Eisenhower's news blackout was intended to appease an increasingly truculent and distrustful ally. Documents in the National Archives bear this out. But the Atlantic article did not put Kennedy's career back on track. This former star of international journalism spent the rest of his life in small-town-newspaper exile, brooding and embittered. He died in Monterey, CA in 1963 after stepping from a bar into the path of an oncoming sedan.
Now scroll ahead 50 years to the present day: Ed Kennedy has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, honoring him in death for the decision that undid him in life. Dozens of journalists have joined the cause, petitioning the Pulitzer board on Kennedy's behalf. Kennedy's rehabilitation began last year with publication of memoirs that had sat for years in a box in his daughter's attic. After being invited to write the forward to Ed Kennedy's War, Associated Press CEO Tom Curley was moved to issue a public apology for Kennedy's firing. Publicity from that apology inspired the Pulitzer drive, and the board is set to announce this year's winners on April 15.
The Pulitzer board has bestowed posthumous awards in the past, all in music, so Kennedy appears eligible by precedent. Does he deserve this recognition? To answer that, one must first address a threshold question: Was breaking the news embargo ethically justifiable? War Department officials, and the journalists that Kennedy "scooped," said emphatically that it was not, and some recent commentators agree. Their case falls apart under scrutiny:
Kennedy broke his word when he broke embargo. Actually, it was Eisenhower's command that broke the embargo. As Ike's Chief of Staff, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith acknowledged after the war, the Allies ordered German radio to broadcast news of the surrender repeatedly to ensure that German forces stood down. The Germans complied, and Kennedy filed his story only after learning of the German broadcasts. He told the senior censor that these broadcasts had nullified the embargo, and he was no longer pledged to honor it.
Kennedy failed to inform his bosses that his dispatch broke the embargo. This is true, but he faced a Hobson's choice. Kennedy had dictated his story to the AP London bureau by phone. The London bureau then had to relay the story to New York headquarters for editing, using a trans-Atlantic cable minded by a military censor. Kennedy thus had two options. He could dictate the story without a warning to editors that it was unauthorized, and get it into print. Or he could include a note telling editors that he was breaking the embargo, ensuring that the censor could stop the dispatch. Kennedy made a difficult choice, but not a deceitful one.
Kennedy betrayed his fellow correspondents by failing to inform them of his intentions in advance. Come on. Wire reporters are paid to be first. If he had stopped to confer with his nearly 60 rivals, not only would he have lost the scoop, but also might inadvertently have alerted the authorities, making it impossible for anyone to file the story.
The most important point, though, is that more than a scoop was at stake with this story. Human lives were in the balance as well. On average, about 60 Americans were dying per day as the war in Europe wound down, and countless others, according to histories of the conflict. So Kennedy's report that the war was over might well have saved some lives, while bringing relief to millions of families of service members. Kennedy's story also revealed the diplomatic subtext described above. To give Stalin time to set up his propaganda surrender ceremony, President Truman had risked an increased death toll by keeping the war on officially for another day or two. Stalin's "Berlin surrender" version took root in the Soviet Union, where Victory Day is celebrated on May 9. Thanks in part to Ed Kennedy, however, VE Day in the West commemorates the real surrender in Reims.
The Ed Kennedy controversy became a huge story in the United States following Germany's surrender. Editorial writers and members of the public came to his defense, incensed that their own government would bottle up the best news of the war. In the face of this bad publicity, Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall ordered Eisenhower to go after Kennedy, according to documents in the National Archives. Ike's public relations chief held a press conference castigating the reporter for violating security. Meanwhile, government and other pressure led Associated Press President Robert McLean to apologize publicly for Kennedy's conduct before all the facts were in. Kennedy's AP career was over.
The Pulitzer board has awarded special citations recognizing a journalists' body of work, not merely an article or series. The case for a Kennedy Pulitzer is stronger if one takes into account his entire career as a war correspondent, starting with the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and continuing through desperate battles in North Africa and Crete, the beachhead at Anzio, Italy, and the allied invasion of Southern France. Through it all, he butted heads continually with Army censors and PR officers who sought to keep journalists under tight control. In September 1944, Kennedy took a jeep and broke away from headquarters, driving from southern France toward Paris, eluding retreating German units, mapping areas that had fallen under control of the Resistance, and documenting a Nazi massacre of men, women, and children. He arrived in Paris only to have his credentials suspended for traveling without permission. Eric Sevareid, who covered the war for CBS, described Kennedy in his 1953 memoir as "one of the most rigidly honest, most unflaggingly objective journalists, who never ceased in his efforts to free the news . . . He did more to hold the military to the letter of the censorship rules . . . than any other journalist I know."
Dealing with Army PR was a Kafkaesque experience then, as it can be today. Eisenhower said in his farewell press conference for war correspondents in Europe that there had been no serious censorship of their copy. In that same press conference, he reminded them to clear any statement they wanted to quote with a PR officer. He also said he regarded journalists accredited to his command as "auxiliary staff officers" whose job was to support the war effort through "objective" reporting. In reality, of course, one can't be both a quasi-soldier and an independent reporter. Ed Kennedy chose to be the latter, and it very nearly destroyed him. Even 50 years after his death, awarding a prize to Kennedy might convey a useful message following the recent decade of war: We need more Ed Kennedys and fewer "auxiliary staff officers" in the press.
Christopher Hanson, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Merrill College of journalism and long-time contributor to Columbia Journalism Review, competed with the Associated Press for eight years as a Reuters correspondent in Washington and London. He covered the Pentagon and was a combat correspondent in the Gulf War.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
For some, abandoning expensive urban centers would be a huge financial relief.
Neal Gabler has been a formative writer for me: His Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity was one of the books that led me to think about leaving scholarship behind and write nonfiction instead, and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination was the first book I reviewed as a freelance writer. To me, he exemplifies the best mix of intensive archival research and narrative kick.
So reading his recent essay, "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans," was a gut punch: First, I learned about a role model of mine whose talent, in my opinion, should preclude him from financial woes. And, then, I was socked by narcissistic outrage: I, too, struggle with money! I, too, am a failing middle-class American! I, too, am a writer of nonfiction who should be better compensated!
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Home,” the second episode of the sixth season.
Every week for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Christopher Orr, Spencer Kornhaber, and Lenika Cruz will be discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners are being made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
Don’t expect Hillary Clinton to stay above the fray in the general election—her campaign plans “sustained and brutal attacks” on Donald Trump.
As they look ahead to the general election, some commentators envision a campaign in which Donald Trump attacks viciously and Hillary Clinton makes a virtue of her refusal to stoop to his level. “I think Trump’s method will be to turn on the insult comedy against Hillary Clinton,” declared GOP consultant Mike Murphy earlier this week. “Her big judo move is playing the victim.” Vox’s Ezra Klein speculated earlier this year that “Trump sets up Clinton for a much softer and unifying message than she’d be able to get away with against a candidate like [Marco] Rubio.”
I doubt it will play out that way. Rope-a-dope isn’t Clinton’s style. When facing political threats, her pattern has been to strike first—and with great force.
“A typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash,” says a new report.
Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.
These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.
In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.
The team, which had 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the English Premier League, has pulled off the biggest upset in sports history.
Much to everyone’s disbelief, the Leicester City soccer club was crowned the champion of the English Premier League Monday.
The team’s chances last summer were small, to say the least. Back then, William Hill, a British betting group, put the odds of the Foxes of Leicester City, a fledgling team based two hours north of London, of winning at 5,000-to-1. Essentially, the team had a .0002 percent chance of being the best team in the league of 20. Except for the 25 people who bet a combined total of just $243 on the team through William Hill, no one expected this from Leicester City.
Here’s some perspective: William Hill once put the odds of Elvis being found alive and well at 2,000-to-1 and an acknowledgment by the U.S. government that the first moon landing was faked at 500-to-1.