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.
As the Trump presidency approaches a troubling tipping point, it’s time to find the right term for what’s happening to democracy.
Here is something that, even on its own, is astonishing: The president of the United States demanded the firing of the former FBI deputy director, a career civil servant, after tormenting him both publicly and privately—and it worked.
The American public still doesn’t know in any detail what Andrew McCabe, who was dismissed late Friday night, is supposed to have done. But citizens can see exactly what Donald Trump did to McCabe. And the president’s actions are corroding the independence that a healthy constitutional democracy needs in its law enforcement and intelligence apparatus.
McCabe’s firing is part of a pattern. It follows the summary removal of the previous FBI director and comes amid Trump’s repeated threats to fire the attorney general, the deputy attorney, and the special counsel who is investigating him and his associates. McCabe’s ouster unfolded against a chaotic political backdrop which includes Trump’s repeated calls for investigations of his political opponents, demands of loyalty from senior law enforcement officials, and declarations that the job of those officials is to protect him from investigation.
Among the more practical advice that can be offered to international travelers is wisdom of the bathroom. So let me say, as someone who recently returned from China, that you should be prepared to one, carry your own toilet paper and two, practice your squat.
I do not mean those goofy chairless sits you see at the gym. No, toned glutes will not save you here. I mean the deep squat, where you plop your butt down as far as it can go while staying aloft and balanced on the heels. This position—in contrast to deep squatting on your toes as most Americans naturally attempt instead—is so stable that people in China can hold it for minutes and perhaps even hours ...
How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory
One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.
Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.
A new six-part Netflix documentary is a stunning dive into a utopian religious community in Oregon that descended into darkness.
To describe Wild Wild Country as jaw-dropping is to understate the number of times my mouth gaped while watching the series, a six-part Netflix documentary about a religious community in Oregon in the 1980s. It’s ostensibly the story of how a group led by the dynamic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh purchased 64,000 acres of land in central Oregon in a bid to build its own utopian city. But, as the series immediately reveals, the narrative becomes darker and stranger than you might ever imagine. It’s a tale that mines the weirdness of the counterculture in the ’70s and ’80s, the age-old conflict between rural Americans and free love–preaching cityfolk, and the emotional vacuum that compels people to interpret a bearded mystic as something akin to a god.
The first female speaker of the House has become the most effective congressional leader of modern times—and, not coincidentally, the most vilified.
Last May, TheWashington Post’s James Hohmann noted “an uncovered dynamic” that helped explain the GOP’s failure to repeal Obamacare. Three current Democratic House members had opposed the Affordable Care Act when it first passed. Twelve Democratic House members represent districts that Donald Trump won. Yet none voted for repeal. The “uncovered dynamic,” Hohmann suggested, was Nancy Pelosi’s skill at keeping her party in line.
She’s been keeping it in line for more than a decade. In 2005, George W. Bush launched his second presidential term with an aggressive push to partially privatize Social Security. For nine months, Republicans demanded that Democrats admit the retirement system was in crisis and offer their own program to change it. Pelosi refused. Democratic members of Congress hosted more than 1,000 town-hall meetings to rally opposition to privatization. That fall, Republicans backed down, and Bush’s second term never recovered.
In his new book, Steven Pinker is curiously blind to the power and benefits of small-town values.
I’m a scientist at UC Berkeley—a card-carrying true believer in liberal Enlightenment values. Imagine that I meet a bright young woman in a small town in Wisconsin or Alabama, and that I want to persuade her to become a scientist like me. “Listen, science is really great!,” I say. “We scientists care about truth and reason and human flourishing. We include people from every country and culture. And our values have transformed the world. For thousands of years before the Enlightenment, the speed limit was the pace of a fast horse, and children died all the time. Now ideas move at the speed of light, and a child’s death is an unthinkable tragedy. Democracy has eclipsed tyranny, prosperity has outpaced poverty, medicine has routed illness, individual liberation has uprooted social convention. Come join us!”
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
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The strange, cosmic reason our evolutionary path will look ever luckier the longer we survive
It was hard times for the bomber pilots that floated over Europe, their planes incinerating cities below, like birds of prey. Even as they turned the once-bustling streets beneath to howling firestorms, death had become a close companion to the crews of the Allied bombers as well. In fact, surviving a tour with the Bomber Command had become a virtual coin flip. While their munitions fell mutely from bomb bays, an upward sleet of fire from smoldering city grids and darkened farmland shot the planes out of the sky like clay pigeons. For recruits encountering the freshly empty bunk beds of dead airmen, morale was sapped before they could even get in the cockpit. Hoping to slow this attrition, Allied officers studied the pattern of bullet holes in returning aircraft for vulnerable parts to reinforce with armor.
For a brief moment, NASA found itself at the center of a digital misinformation campaign.
“After year in space, astronaut Scott Kelly no longer has same DNA as identical twin,” the headline of a story on the Today show’s website, published Thursday, declared. Seven percent of his DNA, the story says, “has not returned to normal since he returned from space.”
Pretty amazing news, right? Too bad it’s not true.
This week, dozens of news organizations published stories with this or similar information. They cited a NASA study on the effects of space travel on the human body, with two subjects: astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly, identical twins. In 2015, Scott flew to the International Space Station and lived there for 340 days—a record for an American astronaut—while Mark stayed on Earth. Scientists examined the twins before, during, and after the mission.
Inside Germany’s high-stakes operation to sort people fleeing death from opportunists and pretenders
Three years ago, overcome by the squalor of my home, I decided to hire a cleaner. I scanned Craigslist, feeling a prick of guilt; few things arouse class angst as reliably as the purchase of domestic help. Then I remembered another option. Near my Connecticut home was a refugee-resettlement center. On weekdays, dozens of recent arrivals loitered there, eager for work. This seemed to offer a solution to both my squalor and my angst. To pay a Craigslist gig worker felt a little icky. To pay a refugee—well, that felt magnanimous, almost patriotic.
I wrote to the resettlement center, which sent me a stack of résumés. Even the ones from Congolese herders were well formatted and in English—the result, surely, of polishing by the center’s staff. The stories, I found, made propulsive reading, despite the outline form. I was tempted to request more résumés for the understated drama alone. Each was the timeline of a life interrupted in a distant, volatile land and now picked up, improbably, in a snowy New England town.