'Today' Misses Partisan Aspect of Ted Kennedy's 'Poignant' Succession Request

Lost in Thursday's "Today" coverage of Senator Ted Kennedy's letter requesting a succession plan, should the Massachusetts senator be unable to serve due to health reasons, was how nakedly partisan the act was. While NBC's Matt Lauer noted, at the top of the show, that Kennedy sent a "poignant letter to lawmakers," asking for a succession plan, he nor any other NBC correspondent, mentioned that Kennedy was asking for a change in a rule the state Democrats put in place to prevent a then-Republican Governor Mitt Romney from appointing a replacement for Democratic Senator John Kerry, if Kerry had won the presidential election in 2004. Now that  Democratic Governor Deval Patrick is in charge, Kennedy is asking the rule be changed back to ensure an extra Democratic vote for a health care bill.

NBC's Anne Thompson missed the partisan ramifications as she depicted a missing Kennedy vote as only a loss to the people of Massachusetts in her piece: "What he does not say in the letter is that, clearly, on his mind is the issue of health care. It has been the issue of Senator Kennedy's career and should an issue, and should a vote come in the Senate on health care reform, and Senator Kennedy was not able to cast that vote and no special election should be held, Massachusetts would only have one vote on that issue."

The following teaser and segment were aired on the August 20, edition of the "Today" show:

MATT LAUER: And letter from the senator. In a nod to his failing health, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy sends a poignant letter to lawmakers in his home state and he's asking for a succession plan today, Thursday, August 20th, 2009.

...

ANN CURRY: Now to Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy looking to the future as he battles cancer. NBC News has learned that he has now sent a letter to Massachusetts lawmakers asking for a succession plan to be put in place. NBC's Anne Thompson is near the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod this morning. Ann, good morning.

ANNE THOMPSON: Good morning, Ann. That letter to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and leaders of the State House and Senate was sent by Senator Kennedy at his home in Hyannisport. It is here where has spent most of his time here since being diagnosed with malignant brain cancer or malignant tumor in May of 2008. Now in the letter the Senator asks that the state amend its succession law if a senator, in the state, resigns or passes away. Under that current law you would, the, there would be a special election that would occur five months after a resignation or a death. Senator Kennedy is asking that the law be amended to allow the governor to appoint someone to hold that Senate seat until a special election is held, and in the letter he writes to Governor Patrick, and the state leaders, "I am now writing to you about an issue that concerns me deeply. The continuity of representation for Massachusetts should a Senate vacancy occur."

What he does not say in the letter is that, clearly, on his mind is the issue of health care. It has been the issue of Senator Kennedy's career and should an issue, and should a vote come in the Senate on health care reform, and Senator Kennedy was not able to cast that vote and no special election should be held, Massachusetts would only have one vote on that issue.

At the end of the letter, Senator Kennedy talks about his service to the people of Massachusetts and what it has meant to be a senator to him. He does not reference his illness but he says, "Serving the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate has been, and still is, the greatest honor of my public life." Aides close to the senator say that this letter does not mean that any change in his health is imminent, it is just something that has been on his mind. Anne?

CURRY: Still, it obviously says that, you know, at a time when he's got so much to deal with that he's, he's actually also still thinking about the future for Massachusetts and for this country. Anne Thompson, thank you so much for your reporting.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.