I paid no attention to the fact that Hollywood was producing a biopic of Ted Kennedy’s famous “accident” at Chappaquiddick in 1969, and would have assumed that it was a typical gauzy pro-Kennedy puff piece if I had known. But Variety magazine, the main trade journal of Hollywood, offers a review that not only says that the forthcoming movie Chappaquiddick is suitably harsh on Teddy, but that he—and the Kennedy reputation—deserve it:
The film says that what happened at Chappaquiddick was even worse than we think. Kopechne’s body was found in a position that implied that she was struggling to keep her head out of the water. And what the film suggests is that once the car turned upside down, she didn’t die; she was alive and then drowned, after a period of time, as the water seeped in. This makes Edward Kennedy’s decision not to report the crime a clear-cut act of criminal negligence — but in spirit (if not legally), it renders it something closer to an act of killing.
But this is just the beginning. The reviewer, Variety chief film critic Owen Gleiberman, piles on:
“Chappaquiddick” is a meticulously told chronicle, no more and no less, and at times there’s a slight detachment in watching it, because it’s too tough and smart to milk the situation by turning Edward Kennedy into a “tragic figure.” . . .
Forty-eight years later, let’s be clear on what the meaning of Chappaquiddick is. Ted Kennedy should, by all rights, have stood trial for involuntary manslaughter, which would likely have ended his political career. The fact that the Kennedy family — the original postwar dynasty of the one percent — possessed, and exerted, the influence to squash the case is the essence of what Chappaquiddick means. The Kennedys lived outside the law; the one documented instance in American history of an illegally stolen presidential election was the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. He lost the race to Richard Nixon, but his father sealed the presidency for him by manipulating the vote tallies in Illinois. That’s the meaning of Chappaquiddick. too.
I don’t say any of this as a right-wing troll. But those are the facts, and they are facts that liberals, too often, have been willing to shove under the carpet. And they have paid the price. Ted Kennedy became known as “the Lion of the Senate,” and did a lot of good, but when you try to build a governing philosophy on top of lies, one way or another those lies will come back to haunt you. (Hello, Donald Trump! He’s an incompetent bully, but his middle name might be “Liberal Karma.”) As a movie, “Chappaquiddick” doesn’t embellish the incidents it shows us, because it doesn’t have to. It simply delivers the truth of what happened: the logistical truth of the accident, and also the squirmy truth of what went on in Ted Kennedy’s soul. The result may play like avid prose rather than investigative cinema poetry, but it still adds up to a movie that achieves what too few American political dramas do: a reckoning.
I hope Gleiberman has good life insurance, and checks his car’s ignition before he starts up every day from now on. Just to be safe, don’t park next to Oliver Stone.
For what it’s worth, some years ago I had a long conversation with someone who owned a second home on Chappaquiddick and was present that weekend, though, as a Republican, he was not at the infamous party. He told me the story went out over the weekend that Kopechne had fallen asleep in the back seat of Kennedy’s car, and that Teddy wasn’t aware she was back there when he drove off the bridge. This doesn’t square with a lot of the circumstances and other facts of the story, leading to the suggestion that this was the first version of an alibi that was abandoned because it couldn’t hold up.
This person (now deceased) also said that the Kennedy machine descended upon Chappaquiddick like the Normandy invasion, canvassing the island’s small population to see whether there were any witnesses and tamp down any “rumors.”
JOHN adds: Ted Kennedy was a coward. He left Mary Jo Kopechne to drown, and walked back, a long distance, to the house where his party was still in progress. When he arrived there, he importuned his cousin, Joe Gargan, to tell the police Gargan had been driving the car. Gargan refused, and insisted that they return to Poucha Pond and see whether Kopechne could be rescued. Kennedy agreed, but was of no use. He sat on the bank while his cousin tried unsuccessfully to dive down to the sunken car.
Quite a few hours went by before someone–not Kennedy–finally called the Edgartown Rescue Service. The head of the Rescue Service, who found Kopechne’s body, told anyone who would listen that when he dived down to the car, he found her with her feet on the back of the front seat and her head propped inside a substantial air pocket in the elevated rear of the vehicle. He said that she would have survived for a long time in that position, until she ran out of oxygen. He said that if Kennedy had reported the accident instead of trying to find someone to take the fall for it, the Rescue Squad would have saved Kopechne.
No doubt Kopechne tried to hold on, assuming that her idol, Ted Kennedy, had gone for help. Instead, Kennedy tried to establish an alibi. Periodically through the night, he would wander from his hotel room down to the hotel lobby, and ostentatiously ask the night clerk what time it was, saying that his watch had stopped. The following morning, Kennedy was leaving to participate in the day’s regatta when someone walked up to him and asked whether he had heard that a girl’s body had been found in Poucha Pond.
All of this has been documented in various books about the incident. Ted Kennedy was a coward and a fool. When the Kennedy family’s consiglieres gathered in Hyannis Port to decide how to deal with the crisis, Ted wasn’t even invited to the meeting. He was considered too stupid to be helpful, and busied himself flying a kite on the beach. He later attended Kopechne’s funeral with a fake neck brace around his neck, intended to suggest, falsely, that he had been injured in the accident.
The fact that the Democratic Party still reveres Ted Kennedy tells you everything you need to know about how low that party has fallen.