'Hardball' Promotes Ted Kennedy HBO History, But Completely Leaves Out Death at Chappaquiddick

On Friday night’s Hardball, guest host Lawrence O’Donnell enthusiastically promoted HBO’s new, glowing Ted Kennedy documentary.

He began by declaring "There‘s so much ground to cover. We don‘t have enough time for this. And I want to show the people out there, people under 60, who don‘t know the early Ted Kennedy, don‘t remember the early Ted Kennedy, I want to show what you have got in this movie." But O’Donnell’s interview completely left out the biggest scandal of "the early Ted Kennedy" – the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick.

This seemed especially odd as O’Donnell recounted with filmmaker Caroline Waterlow how Richard Nixon was obsessed with Ted Kennedy:

O'DONNELL: Imagine that. Here you are, a senator. You have a president of the United States obsessing all day, is there something we can hang on him. Is there something we can accuse him of?

WATERLOW: With all—to think of Teddy, with all the things he was dealing with politically and within his family and all of the losses he has suffered, he was also—

O'DONNELL: He lost his oldest brother in World War II. He then has his remaining oldest brother assassinated November 22nd, 1963, as president of the United States. His then—his remaining oldest brother is assassinated while running for president in 1968. And at this point, having lived through all of that, here we are in 1972 and Nixon is trying to figure out how to make this guy‘s life worse.

WATERLOW: Yes.

O'DONNELL: But he perseveres. He keeps going. And he eventually himself wants to run for the presidency.

WATERLOW: Yes. That was something that I also had not fully appreciated going into this project, that from about ‘68 right after Bobby‘s death, people are talking to him about running for president. And there was an effort to draft him in ‘68 to take Bobby‘s place, and really for—yes, up until 1980 or ‘79 when he finally decides he is going to run for president president, this is a question that‘s hanging over him and it‘s something people are asking him about that whole time.

O'DONNELL: When you look at that early Senate career of Ted Kennedy, leading up prior to running for president in the ‘80s, it‘s hard to find the easy year for Teddy. Early on as senator, he had a plane crash, a small plane goes down in western Massachusetts. He‘s in the plane. He injuries his back. He‘s never going to be able to walk the same way again for the rest of his life.

One of the things I think about when I watch him in front of these audiences like last summer is the young kids don‘t understand what the older people in that convention hall—what‘s happened to them when they‘re crying listening to Ted Kennedy. They don‘t know the emotional base of the relationship that he has with those voters.

Let‘s take a look at Ted Kennedy giving what I believe was the most public eloquent public eulogy ever given. It was his eulogy of his brother, Robert Kennedy.

T. KENNEDY: My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. To be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, who saw suffering and tried to heal it, who saw war and tried to stop it.

O'DONNELL: Not easy to watch.

WATERLOW: No, it‘s incredibly emotional moment, and really we tried very hard in this film—it‘s entirely archival interviews and footage. We tried to let the footage speak for itself. You can see the emotion and you can see Teddy just by watching him and letting it play.

It's not like the HBO film leaves Chappaquiddick out, which it shouldn't, because it was a continuing obstacle to Kennedy's White House dreams. But MSNBC feels comfortable airbrushing it out of their warm, fuzzy historical memories.

Even so, HBO isn't playing hardball, as seen in its promotional copy: "Through the years, Teddy's reputation as a liberal icon fighting for the rights of the underprivileged has been balanced by his ascension to family patriarch, where he has brought counsel, wisdom and love to a new generation of civic-minded Kennedys."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis