WASHINGTON: Chappaquiddick is an example of defending the indefensible. Ted Kennedy left Mary Jo Kopechne to die. There is not one argument about it. No debate. Kennedy was driving. The car went off the Chappaquiddick bridge.
He gets out and left her there. To die. Or was she already dead?
But then, political partisanship makes people do strange things. Many find a way to defend the most outrageous behavior on the part of those within their party. The very same actions they would find unacceptable if engaged in by those in the opposition.
This is part of the reason people have such a low opinion of politicians, both Republicans and Democrats.
Chappaquiddick – Friday, July 18, 1969
Chappaquiddick is a fair presentation of what occurred on the night of Friday, July 18, 1969. Nonetheless, the movie is becoming the subject of controversy. However, there is no doubt that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s negligence resulted in the death of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne. She died trapped inside the vehicle as Kennedy walked away.
Kopechne died inside a fully submerged car.
According to his own testimony, Kennedy accidentally drove his car off the one-lane bridge and into a tidal basin. He swam free, left the scene and did not report the accident to the police for ten hours. The next day, a diver found the car with Kopechne’s body inside.
What is frightening is that Kopechne was found minutes before Kennedy made an incident report to local authorities.
Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury and later received a suspended 2-month jail sentence.
The film begins the day before the crash and ends six days later.
Mark Ciardi- telling the story of Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick
The film’s producer, Mark Ciardi, says that,
“It’s amazing how compelling that narrative is when you just look at the facts. The writers used the inquest. It wasn’t off of a book. We went with the facts we knew, and didn’t make a movie for the left or right. It’s for the truth…It’s a very tight line to walk because it’s a pretty bad incident that happened. A girl died at his hands, and his actions after proved pretty incredible, not in a great way.”
Mary Jo Kopechne was a member of Robert Kennedy’s staff for four years. She was a political idealist with a promising future. On the night in question, Kennedy went to a party on Chappaquiddick, an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Also attending were a group of young women who had worked in Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign.
Kennedy left the party early, and Kopechne asked if she could join him for a ride back to the hotel.
Mary Jo Kopechne did not need to die
In an interview with Breitbart senior editor Rebecca Monsour, Ciardi discussed the film’s revelation of how Kopechne might have been saved if Kennedy had acted differently after the accident.
“We spoke and tracked down the scuba diver, John Farrar, and he had been on record…As he was recounting it, it was chilling, as if it was yesterday. He said when he got into that car and saw the position of the body and the way it was almost kind of reaching for her last breath up in the corner, hands up. When he took her out, and they put her on the beach, when they compressed the stomach and chest, that there was a kind of pink froth coming out of the nose and mouth, which that signals to him that it was asphyxiation.”
Kopechne’s death, says Ciardi, “…was not drowning.” He didn’t know how long she was in the car. It could have been five minutes or up to a couple of hours.
She was alive in the car.
Ciardi says the fact that Kennedy walked past, 75 yards away, the dike house with the light on, is horrific.
“Kennedy could have lit that island up and they could have had helped her. Maybe she could have been saved. We can’t say for sure. But even if there’s a chance, it’s pretty bad not to try. At least have that wherewithal, even if you’ve been drinking. You don’t worry about your own consequences. That’s his biggest failing, and he didn’t report it for ten hours. You cannot get around that, and then he was having brunch the next morning. And that’s factual.”
In Ciardi’s view,
“Kennedy portrayed himself almost as a victim following the accident…I mean he’s responsible for someone’s death, and then not to notify anybody, and pretend like if it didn’t happen. In some ways he was reduced to a kind of child. He was like a ten-year-old who threw a baseball through a window and pretended that it didn’t happen.”
Is the Libby pardon a precursor to pardons for those Scootered by Mueller?
Kennedy says that he
“…was not driving under the influence of liquor” and that his conduct after the accident “made no sense to him at all.” He would say the fact that he did not report the accident to the police immediately is indefensible. He says there was “no truth whatsoever to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct.”
Chappaquiddick – Ted Kennedy Inquest
At the inquest in January 1970, Judge James A. Boyle, found that Kennedy
“failed to execute due care as he approached the bridge…There is probable cause to believe that Edward M. Kennedy operated his motor vehicle negligently…and that such operation appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.”
The movie does not allude to the many conspiracy theories which have surrounded the Chappaquiddick incident. The film has received largely favorable reviews from such liberal publications as the Village Voice, Vanity Fair and The New York Times.
But it has also come under attack.
CNN was particularly harsh.
“Chappaquiddick is heavy-handed history, a film that at times seems to owe as much to ‘The X-Files’ as the many cinematic dives into the target-rich territory that is the Kennedy clan,” wrote critic Brian Lowery.
New Yorker critic Richard Brody writes,
“The sketches of Kennedy-family tensions and loyalties are thin and simplistic; the action rushes by with little insight or context.”
An opinion writer in The New York Times, Neal Gabler charges the movie with “character assassination.”
Mr. Gabler argues that the film’s advertisements claiming to tell the “untold true story” of a “cover-up” is pointless because
“The story has been told plenty, and no one but the most lunatic conspiracy theorists sees this as anything but a tragic accident in which nothing much was covered up. Many scenes cross from dramatic interpretation to outright character assassination. In this version, the Kennedy character leaves Kopechne to die as she gasps for air, and then with the aid of his brothers’ old advisers, cooks up a scheme to salvage his presidential ambitions.”
But, in fact, the movie’s portrayal of events is quite true to history.
Washington Times columnist Joseph Curl writes:
“Contrary to what the (NY) Times’ writer claims, the movie does not delve into conspiracy theories. Kennedy does not appear drunk and there’s no mention of the rumors that spread after the accident that Kopechne was pregnant with Kennedy’s child. But the film does wade into some territory for which there is much factual support. An autopsy was never performed on Kopechne (the police chief and judge involved were all in the bag for Kennedys) but there is evidence that she did not drown. And the movie perfectly captures Kennedy’s attempts to cover up the circumstances of her death, bringing in a team of high powered politicos to concoct a plausible story. In one hilarious scene, Kennedy dons a neck brace to look injured (he wasn’t) and his only true friend, cousin Joseph Gargan (who throughout the movie plays a sort of Good Angel on his shoulder), forcibly rips it off him.”
What the viewer is left with, writes Curl,
“…is simply a portrait of a weak man, perhaps beaten down by a brutal and demanding father and the pressure of being the last of four of America’s most famous brothers. But throughout, Kennedy’s weak moral core is exposed. He makes the easy choice every time, the one most likely to save his skin.”
Brother Jack’s Profile in Courage, not
The movie ends with Kennedy giving a speech that he ends with a quote from his brother Jack’s book, “Profiles In Courage” (which was not written by John F. Kennedy, but by Ted Sorenson):
“It has been written, ‘A man does what he must, in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures, and that is the basis of all human morality. Whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience, the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow man, each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage cannot supply courage itself. For this, each man must look to his own soul.'”
Noble sentiments, indeed.
Legislative accomplishments more important than Mary Jo Kopechne
But Ted Kennedy’s actions that night in 1969 were something quite different. This story is a part of liberal political history, and that story is told accurately. Did Ted Kennedy regret his actions and move beyond them in later life? The movie shows this seems to be the case.
And the movie ends on precisely that note.
As the film ends, the camera is on a still image of the Chappaquiddick bridge where Kopechne died, and the audience hears a sound montage listing all of Kennedy’s legislative accomplishments throughout his long political career after the incident at Chappaquiddick.
Which we are to believe makes up for his actions that resulted in the death of a Mary Jo. Kopechne, a daughter, sister, friend.
The film challenges viewers to consider the life of a man with both political achievements and deep character flaws.
Defending the indefensible
Why some narrow partisans have attacked this movie is difficult to understand, just as it is difficult to understand why honorable men and women will defend the dishonorable actions of politicians they view as being on “their” side.
The political issues we debate, whether health care, the environment, taxes or education, may be less important in the long run than the moral character of those we choose as leaders, and the example they set.
There is much to think about concerning our contemporary political life when considering “Chappaquiddick.”