Free Markets, Free People

What If Chappaquiddick Had Happened Today?

Eric Zorn does a little “what if” in the Chicago Trib, wondering if Ted Kennedy could have survived Chappaquiddick in today’s news environment.

If we’d had insatiable 24/7 cable news networks in July 1969, the accident on Chappaquiddick Island in which a passenger in a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy drowned would likely have dominated the national consciousness for months.

Zorn then proceeds from the premise that Kennedy’s life and work after that event make the point that it is a good thing we didn’t have the 24/7 news cycle because we’d have lost a giant among legislators.

Of course, you have to accept his premise that Kennedy’s life and work after Chappaquiddick were worthwhile to sign on to the premise. I, for one, don’t.

I mean this is a guy who, as he schemed to figure out a way to become president, tried to make a deal with the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, to undermine Ronald Reagan and gain politically.

So there are probably just as many out here who might have welcomed such coverage if it had had the desired effect of running Kennedy out of public life.

“Politically, Kennedy wouldn’t have survived that kind of media bombardment,” said Bruce DuMont, president of Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications and host of “Beyond the Beltway,” a national weekly talk-radio show. “It wouldn’t have just been a spotlight, it would have been a heat lamp. On him, on all the investigators, on everyone connected to the story.

The cable networks turned Scott and Laci Peterson into household names, DuMont said. “Just think what they would have done with Ted and Mary Jo. Remember all the coverage they gave to the [1999] plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr.? Multiply that by 10.”

Two things argue against this scenario. One – Scott and Laci Peterson didn’t have the upper hand with an adoring media. The Kennedys have always seemed larger than life because the media made them that way. One also has to remember the media of the time knowingly covered up brother Jack’s infidelity. 24/7 news coverage or not, that same sort of mentality was at work with any Kennedy. Expecting a critical look at this particular event is simply not something one can assume – especially given the fact that it never really got it at the time.

Two – Ted Kennedy was shameless. There was nothing that would run him out of public life, to include his cowardly act which led to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Had it been otherwise, the facts surrounding the incident at Chappaquiddick and the amount of coverage it did receive should have been sufficient to do what Zorn claims only 24/7 coverage would have accomplished now. But Kennedy waved it off, ignored it and plowed on.

So while I find Zorn’s point about today’s news cycle (and talk radio) to be interesting, I also find it to be a flawed rationalization for keeping certain bad actors in place supposing that some will become “Ted Kennedys” if we don’t run them off. In fact, he says as much:

Or, as I believe, is the nation — particularly our disabled and disadvantaged residents — better off for the 40 years of service he was able to render after that terrible night?

The momentary satisfaction of destroying Ted Kennedy for his failings would have had a significant price. Something to keep in mind when the next fallen figure, Democrat or Republican, stumbles into the heat lamp.

Zorn’s argument is that justice delayed or belayed might turn out for the better in some cases. That’s an incredibly silly notion. And again you have to agree with the premise that Kennedy’s “40 years of service” were worth Kopechne’s life. Zorn is arguing it is. And he’s not the only one.

Joyce Carol Oates attempts to push the very same premise under a different guise:

His tireless advocacy of civil rights, rights for disabled Americans, health care, voting reform, his courageous vote against the Iraq war (when numerous Democrats including Hillary Clinton voted for it) suggest that there are not only “second acts” in American lives, but that the Renaissance concept of the “fortunate fall” may be relevant here….Yet if one weighs the life of a single young woman against the accomplishments of the man President Obama has called the greatest Democratic senator in history, what is one to think?

One is to think that there isn’t equal justice for all, that some are more privileged and apparently valuable than others. And certainly any future accomplishments, if good, are simply pure luck, even if you agree they’re “good” . We have no way to look into the future and decide that someone will contribute to society in a grand way.

But we can look into the the interior of a ’67 Oldsmobile, see a woman left to drown through the sheer cowardice of the driver who was more concerned about his political career than her life, and draw certain conclusions then.

To some, such as Zorn and Oates, they see a redeemed person who did well with the second chance. Others, such as myself, see such thinking as rationalization for making an exception of Kennedy where they wouldn’t make one for anyone else (despite the lip service). “Second acts” or second chances, where I come from, occur after a price has been paid for the act in question. Kennedy never paid that price.

What Zorn and Oates are really saying here is since it turned out well in their opinion, the ends justify the means. As I see it that’s not justice, it’s elitism on steroids.

~McQ

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27 Responses to What If Chappaquiddick Had Happened Today?

  • Of course Kennedy would survive Chappaquiddick today. The people of Massachusetts re-elected the man in 1970, less than a year and a half after he killed that woman.

    Now, if Kennedy were a Republican, the media would be all over him like flies on a pile of doggie doo. The DNC is running ads in Louisiana against David Vitter, and what did he do? He had an affair outside of his marriage and owned up to it.

    In the utterly disturbed world that is Liberaldom, if you murder a woman, it is a mistake. If you have an affair, you should be castigated, embarrassed, and either impeached or thrown out of office. This is why I believe that liberalism should be considered a mental disease. No one can be sane and believe that kind of horsecrappola.

    • Quite!

      Look at what happened to Gary Condit.

      Nothing.

      Any mere peasant would have been up in front of a Grand Jury without bail.

    • No. If you have an affair and are conservative. Remember, the move to impeach Clinton was just a witch hunt.

  • I used to be a pretty faithful reader of Zorn’s blog until he proposed that Lake Shore Drive be renamed after Obama following the Democratic National Convention. Luckily, no one with any real authority (i.e., Mayor Daley) has agreed with him yet. I notice that Zorn couldn’t have been bothered to counsel patience with any of the other politicians that fell under the “heat lamp” in recent memory. Who knows what any of them could have accomplished?

    Of course, it’s easy to argue that someone should have been spared the media onslaught after they do a lot of stuff that you agreed with. Because we all know that no Senator could have *possibly* come up with the bills that Kennedy did, right?

    • Clearly the appropriate street to be re-named in honor of his holiness would be Wacker Drive.

  • I’m disappointed that Oates could throw Kopechne under the bus or under the bridge so easily. It’s monstrous.

    On Huffington Post Melissa Lafsky makes the same point only worse — Lafsky imagines that Mary Jo Kopechne would agree that her life was Kennedy’s career.

    To their credit HuffPo readers almost entirely condemned Lafsky’s article.

  • Dang. “…her life was worth Kennedy’s career.”

  • The momentary satisfaction of destroying Ted Kennedy for his failings would have had a significant price. Something to keep in mind when the next fallen figure, Democrat or Republican, stumbles into the heat lamp

    ***

    Murder = “failings”?

    Good to know. I hope someone pays a visit to their families and has a momentary “failing” in that case.

    Anything to excuse a liberal. Pathetic.

  • Yet if one weighs the life of a single young woman against the accomplishments of the man President Obama has called the greatest Democratic senator in history, what is one to think?

    Um…. That some pigs are more equal than others?

    That there really are two justice systems, one for the rich and famous, and another for the rest of us?

    That liberals are disgusting hypocrites with no sense of decency or shame?

    That I’m truly sorry that Mary Jo Kopechne ran afoul of this man, and I wonder what sort of life she might have had otherwise?

    That only democrats could lionize somebody like Ted Kennedy?

    Oh, there are any amount of things one might think when pondering the sordid life of Ted Kennedy… and the libs’ reaction to it.

    • Yup, two justice systems, and also two healthcare systems. The same attitude that some lives are worth more than others seems to be rearing its ugly head mpre and more. Eugenics lives. One might call it ‘The value system that dares not speak its name’. Until now.

    • Yet if one weighs the life of a single young woman against the accomplishments of the man President Obama has called the greatest Democratic senator in history, what is one to think?

      This one is to think it’s a pity Teddy Kennedy never read Lord Jim.

  • The problem for liberals with regard to Ted Kennedy is that if they make any attempt whatsoever to look into that car window and see the drowning Mary Jo Kopechne and notice that Ted Kennedy has slunk away to sleep off his drunk, they have no choice — no choice — but to do the same balancing act as Zorn and Oates.

  • Heaven forbid that if Kennedy’s political career had been derailed by Kopechne’s death, MA voters would have had the option to select someone who wasn’t a murderer and wasn’t from a powerful and politically connected family. How it must offend the senses to think that some ordinary rabble might have made it to congress instead!

  • More likely that the “bimbo eruptions” mechanism would be activated to paint Mary Jo as a gold-digger, liar, woman of questionable morals and probably involved in a conspiracy to fake her own death. Highly improbable that today’s news cycle or yesteryear’s would generate a different outcome. Carville, Begala, et. al. would make short work of the problem.

    If we can make John Kerry a war hero and Barney Frank a role model, rehabilitating a philandering scumbag who instigates a mere death is simple work.

    • Well stated, he learned from joe sr.

    • If we can make John Kerry a war hero and Barney Frank a role model, rehabilitating a philandering scumbag who instigates a mere death is simple work.

      Wisdom for our time!

  • What has changed more than the media landscape over 40 years is the moral landscape. So, if Kennedy beat the problem then, he would probably have done better now, not worse. He could blame his actions on having taken too much medication for erectile dysfunction and claim that a five-hour erection had driven him into temporary madness.

    Kopechne, if she died for anything, died to keep that slug out of the presidency. For that everyone can thank her.

    Ed is right about this. If you can make Kerry into a war hero, in anyone’s mind, then all sorts of magic tricks are possible. It just reinforces who controls the media apparatus. The Kennedy’s had the PR machinery in place for decades by the time of Chappaquiddick, and now there is virtually a Kennedy industry within the media, as stale as it might be.

    • Kopechne, if she died for anything, died to keep that slug out of the presidency. For that everyone can thank her

      ***

      Interesting thought raised here….what would’ve been of lesser harm to our country, 8 years of this skell as Pres, or all the decades he sat in Senate like a malignant tumor (oh the irony!) on our nation?

  • Although few make the connection today, Chappaquiddick happened in the early morning hours of July 19, 1969 — the day before the Apollo 11 moon landing. And the police didn’t find out about it until 9 hours later, and the press presumably even later. Media connivance may have downplayed the story, but the big event also surely played a major role.

    By the way, I’ve sometimes wondered if Apollo 11 had a temporary “harmoniousness” side effect, much like the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when aggressive New Yorkers were suddenly much nicer to one another. In particular, Woodstock happened only four weeks later and everyone in the huge crowd famously managed to get along (unlike Altamont only a few months later).

  • I’m not so sure Kennedy would have fared so well had Chappaquiddick happened today. Gary Condit was chased out of office for far less scandalous behavior (yes, a women he’d had a relationship with died, but Condit wasn’t the culprit).

    I’ve been appalled at things I’ve read recently. One poster on another board claimed that Mary Jo Kopechne was at fault because she willingly got into a car with a drunk driver.

    The level to which liberals sink to rationalize truly evil behavior shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.

    • One poster on another board claimed that Mary Jo Kopechne was at fault because she willingly got into a car with a drunk driver.

      And yet odds are that same poster also opposes the death penalty without a hint of irony.

    • I guess sometimes it’s okay to blame the victim.

  • I can’t see that 24/7 news coverage of Chappaquiddick would have made any difference Massachusettes thinks of the Klan Kennedy as if they were gods, and as it was Chappaquiddick killed Teddy’s national ambitions.

  • We will never know what accomplishments Mary Jo might have achieved over her life time, perhaps she would have found a cure for brain cancer.

  • “[T]he man President Obama has called the greatest Democratic senator in history…”

    Really?? Henry Clay must be pissed…