Trying to Censor the Biggest Story in the World

In May of 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allies and ended the war in Europe. Big news, huh? It was news that the U.S. military wanted to censor, because they wanted to control the timing. It sounds ridiculous now, but Allied Supreme Headquarters got news outlets to agree to sit on the story. Then Edward Kennedy, Paris bureau chief for the Associated Press, leaked the story anyway.

Kennedy was one of 17 reporters handpicked by the U.S. Army to attend the German signing of its surrender in Reims, a city known for champagne about 90 miles northeast of Paris. Along with Kennedy representing the AP, other reporters were from the United Press, International News Service, Reuters, Exchange Telegraph, French and Russian news agencies, American, British, Canadian, and Australian radio networks, and two Army newspapers. On Sunday, May 6, 1945, these "lucky 17" were taken to a small airfield outside of Paris. It wasn't until they were in the air that Frank Allen, the spokesman for the Supreme Command, told reporters they were flying to Reims to cover "the impending surrender of the Germans." But reporters' access would be contingent on their promise to cooperate with American censors, he said.

Journalists later referred to this as the "pledge of the plane," a moment that would be the center of the controversy to come. Kennedy says it amounted to "a rambling talk by the general."

The Allied Supreme Command embargoed the news of the surrender for 36 hours, but Germany made the announcement, which was picked up and echoed by the British, and Kennedy could wait no longer. He sent the story through London, where is was already known, and on to the U.S. where the New York Times had it the next morning. The military suspended the AP’s press credentials for the war, and other news reporters were furious for being scooped. Kennedy was fired for his actions, but fought back and unearthed the whole story. Read what happened, and why the news of surrender was embargoed, at The Atlantic. -via Daily of the Day


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