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So You Won’t Talk, Eh?

Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick (Claire Folger)

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the August 26, 1969 issue of National Review.

The big gaps in Teddy Kennedy’s “explanation” of what happened that night on Chappaquiddick continue to be filled by rumor and, naturally, by speculation. Various scenarios are circulating, such as the one pieced together by Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, which has Teddy concocting a plan to have his factotum Joseph Gargan take the rap, a plan abandoned by Teddy, Markham, and Gargan the next morning. Another scenario, outlined by Francis Russell in this issue, has Teddy taking Rosemary Keough to the beach, unaware of a sleeping Mary Jo in the back seat of the car.

Whatever their provenance these scenarios at least represent “working hypotheses” — there being something in the human mind that refuses to accept a sequence of events as, finally, unintelligible: which is what, in effect, Senator Kennedy asked his TV audience to do. The continuing refusal of those who were at the cottage to say anything at all about the evening’s events serves to generate further skepticism. If Teddy’s explanation is true, what motive would exist for the silence? If the guests could confirm his story, and fill in its gaps, why should they refuse to do so?

The continuing refusal of those who were at the cottage to say anything at all about the evening’s events serves to generate further skepticism. If Teddy’s explanation is true, what motive would exist for the silence? If the guests could confirm his story, and fill in its gaps, why should they refuse to do so?

As might have been expected, the European press is having a field day — according the case the same sort of intense examination earlier given the Oswald affair. No doubt we shall soon have the Chappaquiddick equivalents of the Grassy Knoll theorists, the two-three-and-four bullet men, and the double-Oswald sleuths. Perhaps we shall even have a book from Mark Lane. Yet amid all the speculation, some interesting thoughts turn up. The leading French newsweekly L’Express, for example, attributes the outpouring of sympathy for Teddy to the larger social phenomenon of increasing permissiveness, a nouvelle tolérance which is replacing the older demand for strict accountability. L’Express has also turned up this gem: “The parents of Mary Jo Kopechne have refused to take further action. Her father explains: ‘The Senator has telephoned me twice since the accident and each time he sobbed so hard that I couldn’t understand what he said. You can understand how moving this was.’ The mother was more detailed. ‘We received,’ she said, ‘a visit from two priests [let’s hope they weren’t Fathers Gargan and Markham] who have assured us that Mary Jo is in heaven and should not be disturbed. We have followed their advice.’ ” L’Express comments: “This extraordinary ecclesiastical intervention suggests that Edward Kennedy, to get himself out of this miserable business, is not relying solely on the sympathy he can arouse.”

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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