Senator Ted Kennedy, the Kopechnes, and Mrs. Alito's Tears

On 12 January, 2006, the New York Times ran an article entitled “Thrust into the Limelight, and for Some A Symbol of Washington’s Bite.” It was a mini-biography of Mrs. Martha-Ann Alito, and it purported to explain the reasons for Mrs. Alito’s tears during her husband Samuel’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It blamed them on a follow-up question by Senator Lindsay Graham, rather than on the verbal savaging of Judge Alito by the Democrats on the Committee, led by Senator Ted Kennedy.

The Times should have gotten the story right, because one of the three reporters on the story was in their New Jersey Bureau, and based in Caldwell. But they didn’t. Here are the operative paragraphs from that article on the cause of her tears:
She has sat behind him [her husband] all week, a pleasant-looking woman in sensible clothes, peering through rimless glasses as Democrats grilled Judge Alito about his investments and his affiliation with a conservative Princeton alumni group and Republicans tried to provide him some relief.
On Wednesday, one of those Republicans, Mr. Graham, tried to mock the Democrats with a question about the alumni group, which opposed affirmative action.
''Are you really a closet bigot?'' Mr. Graham asked, at which point Mrs. Alito drew her hands to her face and left the hearing room weeping.
As the article explained, Mrs. Alito is “fiercely protective” of her husband. And she was upset by the attacks on him as if he were dishonest, or a bigot, or a poor judge. But there was an additional reason, much older and much darker than what happened at that hearing. It concerns the fact that Senator Kennedy led the attack against Judge Alito.

Mrs, Alito was born Martha-Ann Bomgardner in Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The family moved with her father’s profession as an air traffic controller to New Jersey, where she attended Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Kentucky, she returned to New Jersey and became a librarian in the US Attorney’s office, where she met her husband.

Through her husband’s family, she learned of their personal friendship with another young woman who was also an only child. This other woman and her family were staunch Catholics. On occasion, they attended the same church in Roseland, New Jersey, as the Alitos, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, one of only two churches in that town of 5,298. The Alitos live in Caldwell, population 7,584, where this other woman graduated from Caldwell College, probably as a commuter student from her home, rather than a resident student.

From the personal memories of this woman that Mrs. Alito got from her husband’s family, and from her own understanding of what it means to be an only child, Mrs. Alito knew of the worst thing that any human being could do to another. She also heard of its impact on the family.

That other woman’s name was Mary Jo Kopechne. She was left behind in a sinking car by Senator Ted Kennedy, in an auto accident on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, on 18 July, 1969. That was the other reason for Mrs. Alito’s tears.

[Author’s notes: The author did not bother any of the three families referred to here in writing this. All the information was gathered from reputable Internet sources. If the Times puts a competent reporter on the story, it can find the same information. It should also then apologize for its original article, in which the three reporters presented their personal assumptions as facts on the cause of Mrs. Alito’s upset at the hearing.]

John_Armor@aya.yale.edu