Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the May 19, 1970 issue of National Review.
Despite the haphazard investigation and the muffled confusion of the successive legal moves, one clear and irreducible fact stands out. Senator Edward Kennedy’s story (stories) concerning the events that night on Chappaquiddick is plainly incredible.
The 763-page transcript of the inquest has now been published. Much more important than Justice James Boyle’s conclusion that Kennedy’s negligence as a driver “appeared” to contribute to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne is the justice’s inference that Kennedy lied as a witness testifying under oath. Kennedy claimed that, in attempting to take Mary Jo to the ferry, he turned off by mistake onto the dirt road that leads to the Dike Bridge. As the testimony at the inquest makes clear, however, Kennedy had crossed the Dike Bridge twice that day and had traveled the ferry road three times. The ferry road was a main road, and paved; the bridge road was a dirt track. As Justice Boyle concluded: “I infer that Kennedy and Kopechne did not intend to return to Edgartown at that time; that Kennedy did not intend to drive to the ferry slip and his turn onto Dike Road was intentional.”
The transcript raises many other questions. Kennedy’s inquest testimony conflicts in important ways with the Sorensen speech he delivered over TV a week after Chappaquiddick. Kennedy claims he swam the channel to Edgartown after the accident, though the ferry could have been summoned by phone, and Kennedy’s companion Joseph Gargan had discussed post-midnight service with the operator earlier in the day. Conflicting testimony exists about important points of chronology.
Commenting on Judge Boyle’s inferences — and they seem inescapable — Teddy gave a version of Commodore Vanderbilt’s The Public Be Damned. “It is my own personal view,” he said, “that the inferences and ultimate conclusions are not satisfactory, and I reject those.” He added that he would say no more about Chappaquiddick.
More outrageous even than Teddy’s performance is the indifference toward its moral quality which has been exhibited by the Keepers of the Nation’s Liberal Conscience. Charles Van Doren deserves a recount.