On “Chappaquiddick” And My Multiple “KABOOMS!” As I Watched It.

I finally saw “Chappaquiddick” after delaying the ordeal as long as I could. It isn’t an ethics movie; nor is it the unethical movie I feared that it might be. What “Chappaquiddick” is a very discouraging movie, one that depressed me greatly. It is telling that the Kennedy Legacy Collective didn’t swoop down and try to kill the film, as it is devastating in it depiction of the late Senator. I can only assume that increased focus on what really happened in, say, a libel trial would only affirm the portrayals, and do more damage than a little-seen film alone.

Of course, the movie is open to attack by Kennedy defenders on the grounds that it speculates what Ted Kennedy was thinking, as well as on  the conversations that went on behind closed doors. Nonetheless, the bare fact that Senator Kennedy waited 10 full hours before reporting the accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne to police has been damning enough since that summer day in 1969 without further elaboration. The cover story—no, we can’t prove it was a cover story, but it was a cover story—that Ted was dazed and in shock from a concussion and wandered around aimlessly, explaining his actions—was never credible, certainly not at my Arlington, Massachusetts home.

I experienced the film this week as a simultaneous flashback and a series of head explosions. I had forgotten the ridiculous neck brace Kennedy wore to Mary Jo’s funeral (but not before or after it); the film states that it was a prop, and I remember that this was the consensus at the time. My biggest head explosion? It was probably the statement of the Martha’s Vineyard judge who gifted Kennedy with the shortest sentence possible for the lesser offense the Senator agreed to plead to, which was leaving the scene of an accident. Kennedy got a two months suspended sentence, and the judge said that he would be “punished enough.” (If you are unfamiliar withe my opinion of THAT rationalization, you can check out this post from 5 years ago; I have another one somewhere about a father who let his baby die in a hot, locked car, and both people involved in those tragedies were less despicable than Ted Kennedy.) Punished enough? The judge presumably meant that Teddy would take a big hit to his White House aspirations, poor guy.

You know, I’d say that every citizen locked up for negligent homicide, which is the real crime Kennedy was guilty of, can kiss their Presidential aspirations good-bye.

KABOOM #2 was the film’s version of first thing out of Kennedy’s mouth when he began explaining the fateful night’s events to cousin and family lawyer Joe Gargan: “I’m never going to be President.” I can’t find substantiation for this; the line isn’t in the version of the screenplay on the web. The subsequent conferences with Kennedy advisors and fixers, however, showed callousness that was not much worse. The film took a lot of its facts from “Senatorial Privilege” by Leo Damore, which was written from interviews with Kennedy friends and relatives, including Gargan.  Kennedy  made over 30 phone calls from the hotel payphone, none of which involved rescuing Mary Jo.   His driving license had been expired for 6-months, so Kennedy’s fixers pulled the right strings and the DMV issued him a new license on that Sunday, before he surrendered to police.

My head blasted the third time watching the recreation of Ted’s nationally televised speech, written by Kennedy wordsmith Ted Sorensen. This is the real version; the movie shortens it quite a bit…

My fellow citizens:

I have requested this opportunity to talk to the people of Massachusetts about the tragedy which happened last Friday evening. This morning I entered a plea of guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Prior to my appearance in court it would have been [im]proper for me to comment on these matters. But tonight I am free to tell you what happened and to say what it means to me.

On the weekend of July 18th, I was on Martha’s Vineyard Island participating with my nephew, Joe Kennedy — as for thirty years my family has participated — in the annual Edgartown Sailing Regatta. Only reasons of health prevented my wife from accompanying me.

On Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha’s Vineyard, I attended, on Friday evening, July 18th, a cook-out I had encouraged and helped sponsor for a devoted group of Kennedy campaign secretaries. When I left the party, around 11:15pm, I was accompanied by one of these girls, Miss Mary Jo Kopechne. Mary Jo was one of the most devoted members of the staff of Senator Robert Kennedy. She worked for him for four years and was broken up over his death. For this reason, and because she was such a gentle, kind, and idealistic person, all of us tried to help her feel that she still had a home with the Kennedy family.There is no truth, no truth whatever, to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct that have been leveled at my behavior and hers regarding that evening. There has never been a private relationship between us of any kind. I know of nothing in Mary Jo’s conduct on that or any other occasion — and the same is true of the other girls at that party — that would lend any substance to such ugly speculation about their character. Nor was I driving under the influence of liquor.

Little over one mile away, the car that I was driving on an unlit road went off a narrow bridge which had no guard rails and was built on a left angle to the road. The car overturned in a deep pond and immediately filled with water. I remember thinking as the cold water rushed in around my head that I was for certain drowning. Then water entered my lungs and I actual felt the sensation of drowning. But somehow I struggled to the surface alive.

I made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into the strong and murky current, but succeeded only in increasing my state of utter exhaustion and alarm. My conduct and conversations during the next several hours, to the extent that I can remember them, make no sense to me at all.

Although my doctors informed me that I suffered a cerebral concussion, as well as shock, I do not seek to escape responsibility for my actions by placing the blame either on the physical and emotional trauma brought on by the accident, or on anyone else.

I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately.

Instead of looking directly for a telephone after lying exhausted in the grass for an undetermined time, I walked back to the cottage where the party was being held and requested the help of two friends, my cousin, Joseph Gargan and Phil Markham, and directed them to return immediately to the scene with me — this was sometime after midnight — in order to undertake a new effort to dive down and locate Miss Kopechne. Their strenuous efforts, undertaken at some risk to their own lives, also proved futile.

All kinds of scrambled thoughts — all of them confused, some of them irrational, many of them which I cannot recall, and some of which I would not have seriously entertained under normal circumstances — went through my mind during this period. They were reflected in the various inexplicable, inconsistent, and inconclusive things I said and did, including such questions as whether the girl might still be alive somewhere out of that immediate area, whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys, whether there was some justifiable reason for me to doubt what had happened and to delay my report, whether somehow the awful weight of this incredible incident might in some way pass from my shoulders. I was overcome, I’m frank to say, by a jumble of emotions: grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion, and shock.

Instructing Gargan and Markham not to alarm Mary Jo’s friends that night, I had them take me to the ferry crossing. The ferry having shut down for the night, I suddenly jumped into the water and impulsively swam across, nearly drowning once again in the effort, and returned to my hotel about 2:00am — and collapsed in my room. I remember going out at one point and saying something to the room clerk.

In the morning, with my mind somewhat more lucid, I made an effort to call a family legal advisor, Burke Marshall, from a public telephone on the Chappaquiddick side of the ferry and then belatedly reported the accident to the Martha[‘s] Vineyard police.

Today, as I mentioned, I felt morally obligated to plead guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. No words on my part can possibly express the terrible pain and suffering I feel over this tragic incident. This last week has been an agonizing one for me and for the members of my family. And the grief we feel over the loss of a wonderful friend will remain with us the rest of our lives.

These events, the publicity, innuendo, and whispers which have surrounded them and my admission of guilt this morning raises the question in my mind of whether my standing among the people of my State has been so impaired that I should resign my seat in the United States Senate. If at any time the citizens of Massachusetts should lack confidence in their Senator’s character, or his ability — with or without justification — he could not in my opinion adequately perform his duties and should not continue in office.

The people of this State, the State which sent John Quincy Adams, and Daniel Webster, and Charles Sumner, and Henry Cabot Lodge, and John Kennedy to the United States Senate are entitled to representation in that body by men who inspire their utmost confidence. For this reason, I would understand full well why some might think it right for me to resign. For me, this will be a difficult decision to make.

It has been seven years since my first election to the Senate. You and I share many memories — some of them have been glorious, some have been very sad. The opportunity to work with you and serve Massachusetts has made my life worthwhile.

And so I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with me. In facing this decision, I seek your advice and opinion. In making it, I seek your prayers — for this is a decision that I will have finally to make on my own.

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 the past courage cannot supply courage itself. For this, each man must look into his own soul.”

I pray that I can have the courage to make the right decision. Whatever is decided, whatever the future holds for me, I hope that I shall have — be able to put this most recent tragedy behind me and make some further contribution to our state and mankind — whether it be in public or private life.

Thank you and good night.

I had forgotten that Kennedy never apologized to the Kopechnes for getting their daughter killed. But he did use the recently departed Mary Jo as a convenient device to signal his virtue, standing up for her reputation, while being mostly concerned about his own. The poetic quote was a a typical Sorensen touch, and laying it on a bit thick: a Churchillian passage of dubious provenance that sainted brother Jack had used in his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Profiles in Courage”—which was, after all, written by Ted Sorensen.

The final series of head explosions occurred at the end, as the film showed archival footage of Massachusetts voters, Kennedy worshipers, most of them, talking about how “anyone can make a mistake” and what good things Ted and his dead brothers had done in the past, and how sure, they would vote for him again.

Of course, they did.

The modern progressive movement in the Democratic Party was substantially built on the career of this weak, corrupt man, the product of the triumph of nepotism, mythology, celebrity, money and privilege over merit and justice.

And people deny that there could have been any bias, political manipulation and corruption in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private server.

Kaboom.

Indeed He Deserved All Of It, But Denny Hastert’s Sentencing Hearing Was A Legal And Ethical Travesty

Hastert sentencing

“I am deeply ashamed to be standing here,” former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert  told a judge yesterday at his sentencing hearing.  “I know why I am here … I mistreated some of the athletes that I coached.”

Wait…what? That’s not why Hastert was in court at all. He was before a judge for one reason: he violated banking laws and lied to the F.B.I.. The fact that he was a sexual predator and molested members of the wrestling team he coached many years ago is not the reason he was in court. It couldn’t be. The statute of limitations on all of those crimes, horrible crimes all, had expired. Hastert couldn’t be charged, tried or convicted of any of them.

I don’t understand why this hasn’t been the focus of the coverage of Hastert’s ordeal yesterday. Why did the judge think it was appropriate to “angrily” lecture him about his crimes that in the eyes of the law he must be considered innocent of by the legal system, because he cannot be found guilty of these crimes any more?

“‘If Denny Hastert could do it, anyone could do it,'” U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin said. “Nothing is more stunning than to have the words ‘serial child molester’ and ‘speaker of the House’ in the same sentence.” Well, that’s very interesting, Judge. If  the late Ted Kennedy had been before you to be sentenced for, say, just a wild hypothetical, a drunk driving charge, would you lecture him about letting Mary Jo Kopechne drown in his car?

I may have missed it, but when O.J. Simpson was sentenced for burglary, I don’t recall the judge asking him to confess to murdering Nicole and Ron…did that happen?

Earlier this month, the judge and prosecutors allowed the trial to become a proxy trial for a crime that wasn’t on the docket, with prosecutors hammering at graphic details about the sex-abuse, describing how Hastert would sit in a recliner in the locker room with a direct view of the showers. The victims, prosecutors said, were boys between 14 and 17. Hastert was in his 20s and 30s. This is relevant to the charges against Hastert how, exactly? Answer: They aren’t. Continue reading

Victims, Victimizers, and Hypocrites: The Dennis Hastert Affair

12-20-98 Copy photo from 1976 Yorkville Yearbook which shows Dennis Hastert who coached the 1976 state champion wrestling team...

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, the longest serving GOP Speaker in history, has been indicted for lying to the FBI and elaborately evading reporting requirements on large cash withdrawals for  payments he allegedly made to a male former student whom Hastert sexually abused while he was a high school wrestling coach over 30 years ago. If you want to read what is known about the unfolding Washington scandal s far, as well as partisan attempts at spin, you can try Politico, The Week, Talking Points Memo, OpenSecrets.orgWashington Post, Bloomberg Business, The National Memo, NBC News, Washington Monthly, Outside the Beltway, The Hill, Daily Mail, Patterico’s Pontifications and The Daily Kos.

Ethics observations:

1. This is a personal and professional tragedy, no matter what else may be true. Hastert has a family, and once had a career and a relatively solid reputation. The family is still there, though wounded; the rest is gone, presumably forever.

2. Assuming that what is coming out as the reason Hastert was paying millions in hush money is in fact true, he abused his position of trust as a teacher and committed a heinous crime. Nothing that he did subsequently as a public servant, or endured as a consequence of his actions, mitigates the seriousness of that misconduct. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Elyse Siegel and Craig Kanalley of the Huffington Post

It should go without saying that before you author a post about “unforgettable lies” to a popular website, you should probably know what a lie is. This detail seems to have eluded Elyse Siegel and Craig Kanally, however. Their Glenn Beck-inspired retrospective of lies by prominent Americans acts to further muddle the public’s understanding of a basic concept, degrading communication and spreading misinformation.

A lie is a statement that intentionally misrepresents facts in order to mislead or deceive someone. A mistake is not a lie. When one makes a statement believing it to be true, and subsequent revelations prove that the statement to be false, that is not lying, though those who want to ascribe bad motives to the statement may incorrectly characterize it as one. Such a statement is not a lie even when it is made recklessly, or out of ignorance, stupidity, or misplaced trust.

Nor is a broken promise a lie, if the promise was sincere when it was made. Promise-keeping is a different virtue than honesty.Then there are disagreements over definitions. Some terms have more than one meaning, and using one of them when a listener is thinking of a different definition may be poor communication or sloppy thinking, but it is not a lie unless it is intended to deceive.

The Huffington Post piece blurs these important distinctions, and this is a problem. Lying suggests malice, and it has become increasingly common for civic debate to feature the epithet of “Liar!” being directed at writers, pundits and politicians who are simply stating sincere opinions. In fact, many of the bloggers at the Huntington Post do this routinely, which may be why no editor pointed out that Siegel and Kanalley’s post showed that they didn’t understand what they were writing about. In fact, by their definition of the word, the post contains several lies.

It doesn’t, though. It is just wrong.

You can pick out the non-lies in their honest but incompetent post here. By my count, at least five and maybe six of the “lies” are not lies at all. Of course, the authors would not have had to resort to non-lies if they weren’t so dedicated to featuring conservatives and Republicans on their list. There are plenty of clear-cut lies by Democrats and non-political types that were worthy of the list if their post didn’t have to double as a political hit piece.  Where, for example, are Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s serial claims of Viet Nam combat service? Isn’t Ted Kennedy’s infamous statement about his negligent homicide of Mary Jo Kopechne just a bit more famous and important than Glenn Beck’s fib at his Lincoln Memorial rally? How about former Justice Souter’s claim, under oath before the U.S. Senate, that he had never given any thought to the abortion issue? Or Senator Roland Burris’s statement to the Senate that he had no contact with Rod Blagojevich prior to being appointed to his seat, a statement he recanted as soon as he was confirmed?

These were all real lies, significant, intentional, and infamous.

Remembering Ted Kennedy Fairly

Today, on the Sunday before the new year, the New York Times Magazine has its annual issue of brief profiles of famous, important, and not-so-famous-but-still-important people who breathed their last in the past twelve months. It is always a fascinating collection; for me, the exercise is a slap in the face, focusing my wandering attention upon how many remarkable lives and achievements have escaped my awareness and proper appreciation—and this is only a small, random collection. The last of the profiles, however, was about a life I knew a lot about: Ted Kennedy. In my view, the piece fails an ethical imperative. It doesn’t mention Mary-Jo Kopechne. Continue reading