op-ed

‘Chappaquiddick’ Is A Brutally Honest Movie Laying Bare The Kennedys For Who They Really Were

Conservatives’ expectations for honest and fair movies coming out of Hollywood are understandably low.  For decades now we have been brow-beaten and lectured by clueless celebrities on everything from saving the Spotted Owl to gun control – the latest flavor of the moment.

But a breath of fresh air is blowing in from the left coast. The new movie ‘Chappaquiddick,’ from Entertainment Studios and Apex Entertainment, is a brutally honest recounting of one of America’s greatest public tragedies: the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in a car owned and driven by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

Producer Mark Ciardi has a winner, and perhaps it’s his record of brilliantly telling true sports stories (Invincible, The Rookie, Miracle, and Secretariat) that so influenced a talented group of director and actors – liberals all – to buy into a straight-up, no spin or bias, telling of this story.  As one might expect, longtime Ted Kennedy senior aide and speechwriter Bob Shrum, trashed the movie (likely without even seeing it) as “a disservice both to the victim and the truth.” On the contrary, the movie is a revelation of truth exposing the decades-long cover-up that Shrum, and other defenders of the Kennedy faith, have long perpetuated.

The Kennedy PR machine, aided and abetted for years by the mainstream media – and, yes, many celebrities in Hollywood –crumbles under the intellectual and historic force of this film. Likewise, we see Mary Jo Kopechne come to life, no longer just that one hopeful face in that one overused photograph.

Mary Jo was a 28-year old experienced Capitol Hill staffer and presidential campaign aide when she came to Chappaquiddick Island off Martha’s Vineyard in August 1969.  She and other campaign workers, all women affectionately dubbed “the Boiler Room Girls,” had been invited by Senator Kennedy to the island for a reunion.  They had faithfully served his older brother Bobby in his Senate office, and on his presidential campaign before his tragic death the year before.

It possibly was the first time the women had gathered since that fateful night at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, a haunting scene that will forever be fixed in America’s memory.  One moment, Bobby Kennedy is thanking his supporters for his win that night in the California primary with Olympic Decathlon Champion Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier of the Los Angeles Rams at his side. The next moment, chaos and anarchy as he lays there helpless and dying – and with him the dreams of Ms. Kopechne and countless others.

In the movie, both on the beach during the day and after they leave a party that night, Mary Jo (Kate Mara) discusses her future with Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke), who makes it very clear he wants her to come back to Washington and serve on his staff.  He was the Senate Majority Whip at the time, a leadership position, and thinking seriously about running for president himself in 1972.

It’s an attractive offer, but she demurs. The pain of Bobby’s death is still real and she doesn’t seem ready to plunge back into another run for the White House. Kennedy himself concedes he’s conflicted about running; the tragic deaths of all three of his older brothers, plus his family’s public legacy, weigh heavily on him.

The accident literally turns his life upside down.  Mary Jo dies and Kennedy survives under circumstances still unknown to this day.  His father, Joseph Kennedy, suffering from a stroke, gathers top advisers from President John F. Kennedy’s administration to help Ted through the maelstrom that ensues.

Their objectives — avoid accountability, protect the brand and preserve political and professional viability — are so familiar to a 2018 America in the midst of scandals affecting an array of powerful men including Harvey Weinstein, Russell Simmons, Al Franken and others. Not to mention how our collective consciousness still vividly remembers the media and our liberal friends so adamantly defending Bill Clinton and dismissing his accusers.

Despite obstacles, the spin doctors prevail. Kennedy’s fixers literally “fix” the legal problems to where he only pleads guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and gets no jail time, not even probation. His live, televised speech to the people of Massachusetts brilliantly casts himself as a victim and exhorts his constituents to “think this through with me.”  They wind up re-electing him again and again.

What ‘Chappaquiddick’ does is lay bare the Kennedys for who they really were. The Camelot myth-makers can’t cover this up any more.

And while we don’t say it often, credit must be given where credit is due: well done Hollywood. Thank you for telling this story openly, honestly, and compellingly.

Ken Blackwell is a Washington based writer and public policy consultant. He was a domestic policy advisor to the Trump/Pence presidential transition team. He was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission from 1991 to 93.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.