It is increasingly dispiriting to hope, even in the #MeToo era, that the mainstream media will ever fully divest from the Camelot myth.
The latest example is Tuesday night’s deplorably-named ABC News special “The Girl in the Car” — a cheap riff on such blockbuster titles as “The Girl on the Train,” “Gone Girl,” etc. — ostensibly about Mary Jo Kopechne, but really, as always, about keeping the Kennedy legacy intact.
The show opened with a howler of a premise, a disembodied voice intoning, “There’s still so much mystery about what happened that night.”
Really? Is there?
For those too young to remember, Kopechne was a young campaign worker left to die by Ted Kennedy after he drove — most likely drunkenly — off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969. The car landed upside down in water so still and shallow that its tires poked above the surface.
Yet the 37-year-old Kennedy, who would later tell the nation he struggled against “a strong and murky current,” did not report the accident until 10 hours later, sometime the next morning, still reeking of booze.
Oh, and the night he left Kopechne to die, he stumbled back to his inn where he later registered a noise compliant to the front desk. Fellow guests were disturbing his sleep.
Yet here is Cokie Roberts, a well-regarded veteran female journalist, throwing shade on Kopechne and the other young female campaign workers, all devoted to Ted’s late brother Robert, for attending that reunion party on Chappaquiddick.
“They wanted to be with the people they had worked with,” Roberts said. “Those happened to be married men. Now, was there something else going on? Maybe! But that wasn’t the point. The point was old times.”
That insinuation, that Kopechne was somehow to blame, is vile. By now we all know how the Kennedys treated the women in their lives, from wives to groupies. But sure, in this moment especially, let’s have another woman castigate a 28-year-old true believer who worked tirelessly for RFK’s presidential campaign, a devout young Catholic who hardly drank, who had been left devastated by Robert Kennedy’s assassination.
Roberts doesn’t stop there, hewing to the hoariest of Chappaquiddick clichés. “It turned out,” she says, “to be yet another huge tragedy for the Kennedy family.”
Fifty years later, let’s get it straight: That night was a tragedy for Mary Jo Kopechne and those who loved her — no one else. Her parents lost their only child. Ted Kennedy literally walked away into lifelong liberal lionization.
It almost doesn’t matter that three of Kopechne’s cousins and one close friend spoke for this special, because for some reason ABC — which earlier this year aired a hagiographic special about JFK Jr.’s fatal plane crash, which the NTSB blamed him for — is dedicated to revisionist Kennedy history.
No mention was made here of Ted’s lifelong drinking or womanizing, his recklessness or self-pity. There was nothing about that night changing him in any way, because it didn’t.
What he did at Chappaquiddick — not what happened, as is so often said, but what Ted Kennedy did — should, by now, have changed our willingness to accept the media-driven perpetuation of the wholesale Kennedy myth.
Mary Jo Kopechne was found facing the back of the car, gripping her seat, head craned backward and pressed up against the roof. She had found an air pocket and spent, first responders believe, hours alive, waiting for help that never came. She could have been saved. She probably was sure that her hero, a strapping young Kennedy, would come back with help. Or at least call the police.
But Ted Kennedy — a coward at best, a sociopath at worst — left her to die, panicked and alone.
It’s left not to historians or reporters or witnesses to tell the truth of that night. Instead, Kopechne’s cousin Bill Nelson articulates it here perfectly.
“Mary Jo, unfortunately, ended up being a footnote in her own death,” he says. This latest retelling only makes that sad truth worse.