Over the weekend, a film was released that revisited the “Chappaquiddick” car accident that led to the death of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne and the political consequences (or lack there of) for then-Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Here’s a quick summary of what happened in that 1969 scandal; Kennedy hosted a party in Martha’s Vineyard and invited his pals and young female staffers referred to as the “Boiler Room Girls,” including Kopechne. Kennedy and Kopechne left the party and drove in his car which went off a bridge and submerged in a lake. And while he managed to escape, she didn’t. He told two of his friends about it and they returned to try and rescue Kopechne. They didn’t. Kennedy failed to report the accident until the following morning and he later pled guilty for leaving the scene of an accident.
The film doesn’t sensationalize the car accident that sparked a political firestorm for the Kennedy family. While it isn’t a partisan attack of the former Massachusetts senator nor does it make him into a movie villain, it does show the callous damage control Kennedy and his army of spinners conducted in the aftermath.
Since the #MeToo Movement launched last fall in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it has become glaring how the country let Kennedy off the hook for his deadly misdeed. It is unclear whether he was driving under the influence (the film takes the position that he was), but even putting that aside, the senator still left Kopechne for dead. After his death in 2009, the “Lion of the Senate” was glorified at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, where he was called a “women’s rights champion.” It’s certainly difficult to argue that Kennedy was a champion for Kopechne in her final hours.
Although he’s been dead for nearly a decade, several in the mainstream media still feel the need to shield Kennedy from any criticism.
In a New York Times op-ed, Neal Gabler claims that the film “eviscerates” Kennedy and that while the real-life accident was tragic, “nothing much was covered up” on behalf of the senator and his close allies. The reality is the unanswered question of Kennedy’s sobriety is what prevented him from facing manslaughter charges. Perhaps him waiting until morning to report the accident gave him enough time to sober up.
A piece in The Washington Post didn’t exactly place any blame on Kennedy for his actions on the night of July 18, 1969, nor did it really talk about the film. Instead, Avi Selk kept focus on the supposed “curse” the Kennedy dynasty was plagued with, as if the senator’s reckless (and probably drunk) driving was out of his control.
Writer Jill Filipovic argued that since the Chappaquiddick controversy, Democrats have since “evolved” on how they treat women and that Republicans “still need to.” She claimed that only the left is “cleaning house” citing the resignation of Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and the reimbursement of Weinstein’s campaign contributions. In order to paint the right as a bunch of sex fiends, she references President Trump, failed GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, and disgraced hotel mogul Steve Wynn. Meanwhile, she doesn’t acknowledge how people like Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton never faced any sort of actual reckoning for his actions.
As a film, “Chappaquiddick” is a well-paced, well-acted political thriller. Jason Clarke was fantastic as Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara and Ed Helms gave strong supporting performances as Mary Jo Kopechne and Kennedy’s “Fix It” cousin Joe Gargan. Director John Curran managed to craft such a polarizing scandal with sensitivity and nonpartisanship. But despite how good the film is on its merits, some on the left will blankly dismiss it because it doesn’t shed a flattering light on their fallen idol.