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Senator Ted Kennedy on Face The Nation. With the 1976 Presidential election looming, and with the saga of Watergate and President Nixon still unfolding and nowhere near being complete, eyes were looking toward 1976 and the contemplation of a run for the White House by many hopefuls, both Democrat and Republican.
High on the list of potential candidates was Senator Ted Kennedy. He drew instant recognition, he was active in the Sentate, a tireless advocate for Universal Health Care and he was heir to the legacy of The Kennedy’s.
However, there was one catch, and it was a big one. An the entire question of making a run for the White House was predicated on one word: Chappaquiddick.
For those who don’t know or don’t remember all the events from some 50 years earlier, Chappaquiddick looms high in scandals capable of stopping a run for the White House dead in its tracks:
On the night of July 18, 1969, Kennedy was at Chappaquiddick Island on the eastern end of Martha’s Vineyard. He was hosting a party for the Boiler Room Girls, a group of young women who had worked on his brother Robert’s ill-fated 1968 presidential campaign. Kennedy left the party with one of the women, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.
Driving a 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88, he attempted to cross the Dike Bridge, which did not have a guardrail at that time. Kennedy lost control of his vehicle and crashed in the Poucha Pond inlet, which was a tidal channel on Chappaquiddick Island. Kennedy escaped from the overturned vehicle, and, by his description, dove below the surface seven or eight times, vainly attempting to reach and rescue Kopechne. Ultimately, he swam to shore and left the scene, with Kopechne still trapped inside the vehicle. Kennedy did not report the accident to authorities until the next morning, by which time Kopechne’s body had already been discovered. Kennedy’s cousin Joe Gargan later said that both he and Kennedy’s friend Paul Markham, both of whom were at the party and came to the scene, had urged Kennedy to report it at the time.
A week after the incident, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was given a suspended sentence of two months in jail. That night, he gave a national broadcast in which he said, “I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately,” but he denied driving under the influence of alcohol and also denied any immoral conduct between him and Kopechne. Kennedy asked the Massachusetts electorate whether he should stay in office or resign; after getting a favorable response in messages sent to him, Kennedy announced on July 30 that he would remain in the Senate and run for re-election the next year.
In January 1970, an inquest into Kopechne’s death was held in Edgartown, Massachusetts. At the request of Kennedy’s lawyers, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the inquest to be conducted in secret. The presiding judge, James A. Boyle, concluded that some aspects of Kennedy’s story of that night were not true, and that negligent driving “appears to have contributed” to the death of Kopechne. A grand jury on Martha’s Vineyard conducted a two-day investigation in April 1970 but issued no indictment, after which Boyle made his inquest report public. Kennedy deemed its conclusions “not justified.” Questions about the Chappaquiddick incident generated a large number of articles and books during the following years.
There have been books and conspiracy theories and a plethora of sideways glances plaguing Ted Kennedy since then. And even though Kennedy has done a considerable amount to distance himself from the scandal, it always shows up in some form of question or other.
And this episode of Face The Nation is no different. Interviewed by the panel over his potential run for the White House in 1976, Kennedy is barraged with Chappaquiddick questions almost from the get-go. More proof it was a subject that wouldn’t go away and was the singlemost influential factor in Ted Kennedy not seeking the White House, despite popularity polls saying the opposite.
But to get some idea of where we were, smack in the middle of Watergate and pondering a rather questionable future, here is that episode of CBS Radio’s Face The Nation, as it was originally broadcast on February 10, 1974.