11 May 2012

That AP Apology

For what is AP apologizing?

For firing a guy who broke his word, 67 years and one week ago.

This is an odd (and old) story, but it is also an intriguing footnote to a great historic event, V-E Day.

When Hitler was dead, and the remnants of his inner circle were at last ready to surrender, the Allies decided on two distinct surrender ceremonies -- one involving the western allies, the other involving Russia.

The AP won what some call the biggest scoop in its history -- it was the first organization to report the end of the war in Europe. Even the NY Times ran the AP story that day -- and the mighty Times almost never deigns to use wire services reports, or admit to it. Anyway, you can see the copy here:

MAY 4 1945

But ... it then fired the reporter who had done so.

That was Edward Kennedy. He agreed, as did the other reporters 'embedded' (they didn't use that tern then) with the US Armed Forces and in a position to know about this, that they wouldn't report the story until they got the okay.

Why not? Diplomacy. The Russian surrender ceremony took longer to arrange than the western one, and the Russians wanted Germany's surrender to them to be announced to the world at the same time as Germany's surrender to the US and UK.

But Kennedy decided (in his own words, in a memoir): "Once the war is over, you can't hold back information like that. The world needed to know."

Kennedy has passed away. The AP has apologized to his daughter. CEO Tom Curley says, "It was a terrible day for the AP. It was handled in the worst possible way."

Well ... maybe. The AP ran with the scoop and then fired him. Maybe a better idea would have been NOT to run with the scoop, and to fire him quietly for trying to pass it off as a news story? Or (if they agreed with him that the world's need to know exceeded the imperative of keeping one's word) run the scoop and keep him on payroll. Either it was wrong or it wasn't. Getting the benefit and dumping the liability -- is that what they're apologizing for?

The story is getting international play. Here's the Jakarta Post. (In their part of the world, of course, the war wasn't over in May. That was part of the reason the western powers had to make nice with Stalin as per surrender ceremonies and such.) Of course the Jakarta Post isn't publishing its own account of the AP apology. It is one of many papers around the world running ... the AP account of same.

Or taking unfair advantage of their competition, whose reporters did keep their word?

Here is another take.  Written by the son of another 1940s-era journalist, one of those who didn't break that particular story but who could have, and who in fact knew about this before Kennedy did.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.