My Ted Kennedy Chappaquiddick Story
"The truth is rarely pure and never simple." Oscar Wilde
Teddy's back in the tabloids. According to the New York Daily News, among others, The National Inquirer is reporting Kennedy fathered a son 21 years ago with a Cape Cod woman half his age. The Kennedy camp denies everything.
Of course the tabs have resurrected the June 1969 scandal of Chappaquiddick -- déjà vu all over again.
And I guess it's time to tell the version I heard, supposedly from a horse's mouth, of what really happened there almost 37 years ago.
First a recap. Ted Kennedy's car went off a bridge and into a pond after a party for Bobby Kennedy's campaign staff on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha's Vineyard. A passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne (Ko-peck-nee) was subsequently found drowned in the car.
Kennedy claimed he dove repeatedly into the dark water but couldn't find her. Then, disoriented and hurt, he gave up. On it's face, a routine if terrible tragedy. But Kennedy and his handlers inexplicably waited 9 hours before reporting the accident.
The media frenzy was ferocious. There were claims Kennedy was drunk and that he and his staff engaged in a massive cover-up of the accident and the cause of Ms. Kopechne's death.
Kennedy eventually pled guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident and the case was closed. Justice may not have been served for Mary Jo Kopechne, but many felt partial justice was achieved in the destruction of Ted Kennedy's chances to mount his own presidential campaign.
I was a carefree college student that summer of 1969, doing the European tour. When the scandal broke we were in Italy. A sidebar: it wasn't until we returned to the states that I learned the young woman's name was not Mary Jo "Co-pa-chine-eh" as had been widely reported in the Italian media.
Fast forward a few years to my post college life in the political arenas of Pennsylvania and Washington. I met a woman who was, to say the least, in the thick of things at Chappaquiddick. She told me her story -- one that makes the most sense of the 9-hour lag in reporting the accident, the most critical and damning factor in the whole mess.
It comes down to this. The party was filled with young girls star struck by the older power brokers with whom they were atypically socializing. Mary Jo in particular had a crush on Ted Kennedy. Everybody was drinking heavily.
At some point in the evening, feeling more than a little under the weather, Mary Jo wandered outside, saw Kennedy's car and crawled into the back seat to sleep it off.
At some later point, Kennedy and the woman who told me this story got in his car and headed for a more private party a deux. They were both, shall we say, plastered.
After the car went off the bridge, Kennedy's primary goal was to get his female companion the hell out of the picture. His wife was at home, after all, and pregnant to boot.
Here's the punch line: they didn't know Mary Jo was in the car.
Which provides the most locigal explanation for Kennedy's seemingly evil callousness in not trying to save her. And the troubling time lag as aides scrambled for damage control, not realizing that something far worse than casual infidelity would hit the fan.
My source's anonymity was protected. But her conscience was far from clear. I hope after all these years she's realized she was little more than a naive kid dazzled by a powerful figure with feet of clay. And that she had plenty of company. From those who gravitated to the first Kennedy in power all the way up to Monica.
There are dozens of theories, reams of material, reports, hypotheses and even websites on what really happened at Chappaquiddick.
I didn't make this one up. I wasn't there. So I don't claim this is the Emmes. I'm just reporting the story I was told. We'll never know. After all ... wait for it ... there's too much water under the bridge.