For the the first time in anyone’s memory, Hollywood has produced a movie, Chappaquiddick by name, that features a prominent liberal in a seriously unfavorable light. That liberal, of course, would be the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Local moviegoers were concerned early in the week when the published schedule for Chappaquiddick showed a narrow release. The Cinemark on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, for instance, was advertising other new releases for this weekend but not Chappaquiddick. On Monday, however, Cinemark’s corporate offices in Texas amended the schedule and broadened the release for the movie to include the Plaza theater and others.
“The movie isn’t a hit piece,” writes Kyle Smith in the National Review, “but the history it tells is infuriating.” Adds Smith, “If it had been released in 1970, it would have ended Kennedy’s political career.”
Instead, Kennedy presided long enough in the Senate to launch Barack Obama’s career. “With Barack Obama,” said Kennedy upon endorsing the Illinois senator in early 2008, “we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion.”
In his gushing response to Kennedy’s endorsement, and in his widely televised anguish about Kennedy’s much publicized illness, Obama showed no sign of understanding what happened in the early morning hours of July 19, 1969, and why the thinking half of America never forgave Kennedy for it.
To cut to the chase, the 37-year-old Sen. Kennedy drove off a bridge with a young woman in his car, and the woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, died. A week after the incident at Chappaquiddick, being a Kennedy, Ted requested and got all three networks to give him 15 minutes of prime time for an unprecedented bit of public dissembling.
An increasingly monolithic major media would allow many a future Democrat moments of extravagant deceit, but none, not even Bill Clinton, would ever match the gold standard Kennedy set that night.
In 1969, Leo Damore was a young reporter working for a Cape Cod weekly. Unlike many in the major media who were lulled into inaction by their liberal sympathies, Damore bird-dogged this case for the next 20 years.
Damore’s 1988 book, Senatorial Privilege, is the very best account of the incident. According to Damore, Ted Kennedy left Mary Jo alive, trapped in the car and gasping for air. He bypassed homes near the bridge, from which he could have called the police, and walked over a mile back to the house where he and his married pals were partying with a crew of single women.
Once there, Kennedy sought out his lawyer friends, Joe Gargan and Paul Markham, to help him work out his alibi. Compromised by a presumed lawyer-client relationship, they had to wait for Kennedy to call for help. Kennedy never did. He may have been hoping that Gargan, the family fixer, would take the rap. Mary Jo meanwhile struggled to survive for perhaps an hour, even more.
During those hours and in the subsequent days, Ted forever debased the Kennedy name and came to embody the very “politics of misrepresentation and distortion” that he would so freely and grandly denounce in years to come.
Check your local showtimes. Bring a friend.