Viewpoint: Kennedy Connection

Chappaquiddick redivivus


It won't go away, not in the five years since it occurred. Nor has Sen. Edward Kennedy's Shermanesque withdrawal from the presidential sweepstakes of '76 quieted the issue. Chappaquiddick lives. What surprises is the arenas in which it lives.

Human Events, the premier conservative weekly, contains in a recent issue a biting piece on the 1969 incident, by David Franke of Arlington House publishers. It is a tough and probing article, but its location is not unexpected, since Human Events has every practical and philosophical reason imaginable for wanting to keep Kennedy's connection with Mary Jo Kopechne vivid in the minds of its readers.

It is not merely that this was an anniversary of sorts; the event happened just about five years ago, in the late summer of 1969. It seems instead to be some sort of Watergate-connected matter, a kind of let-us-clean-house-all-over-the lot affair. First the New York Times Magazine undertook a shattering investigation of the discrepancies between the senator's version of what happened, and what actually seems to have happened. This some several months ago.

Since then, perhaps owing to the legitimatization of the issue conferred on it by the liberal Times probe, other journals have gone back and looked anew at the case. Most recently, in late-October, the major New England daily, the prestigious, very liberal Boston Globe, has undertaken an extended series of articles reviving the Chappaquiddick incident, including an interview with Senator Kennedy. Following upon which, the next day, The Globe pointed up places where the senator's interview statements, and some made at the time of the inquest into Miss Kopechne's death, conflict. The Globe has for so long been in on the Kennedyolatry that blights this state, that its willingness now to ask the hard questions and make the hard and ugly observations is notable.

Both then, at his well-prepared TV address, written for him by his retainers and toadies, and in the Globe interview now, the senator called his action "inexcusable, inexplicable." Somehow Massachusetts managed to excuse it and overwhelmingly returned him to the Senate in 1970. It will do the same two years hence, unless circumstances—such as the likelihood of a Wallace nomination unless Ted Kennedy stepped in to rescue his party—dictated a presidential instead of a Senate race.

The parents of Mary Jo, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kopechne, are reported to be "upset" by the fact that nobody will "speak up" about what happened. "Sometimes I'd like to scream a lot but I'm trying to hold it back," Mrs. Kopechne told The Globe. They collected nearly $150,000 from Senator Kennedy's insurance policy—he was insured for about one million dollars, and gave not a cent of his own money to the Kopechnes—and have moved into a fancy house with what they received. For a long while the official story was that the Kopechnes were satisfied by the Kennedy version. Now, evidently, they no longer are. But what are those "blanks in the story"?

Among them: 1) What did Kennedy do during those nine hours after the car went off the bridge and before his reporting of it to authorities?

2) Was there really a concerted rescue attempt by Kennedy's buddies?

3) If so, why didn't they tell the police about the car in the water?

4) Why did Kennedy wait a week to tell his story on TV?

5) Why did Mary Jo leave her pocketbook at the cottage containing the keys to her motel room if, as the official version goes, Kennedy was taking her back to meet the ferry so she could return to her motel room?

6) Why wasn't an autopsy performed immediately?

The questions don't end there, but that's enough for starters. The gaps are wide, the holes mysteriously unplugged even now, and the last thing Senator Kennedy seems ready to do is plug them. And when even a Kennedy-adoring journal like The Boston Globe gets in on the reexamination, one suspects that the issue won't die until the senator tells all.

David Brudnoy teaches history at the University of Rhode Island and is a CBS "Spectrum" commentator. Dr. Brudnoy's viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with the viewpoints of Murray Rothbard and Tibor Machan.