On Day Three of the unfolding Patrick Kennedy story, the Washington Post moves it off the front page and into classic smooth-it-over mode. The story from Pawtucket, reported by David Fahrenthold, is headlined "At Home, Cynicism and Support: Many of Kennedy's Constituents Suspect Story but Don't Mind."
Fahrenthold began: "The bad news for Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy: The voters of Rhode Island do not, by and large, seem to believe his version of what led to a car crash early Thursday outside the U.S. Capitol." (He quotes male nurse Michael Rossi saying he believes the problem was alcohol, not presciption drugs. "Now the good news for Kennedy: The voters of Rhode Island -- including Rossi -- also don't seem to care."
Fahrenthold found that the forgiveness came almost before the admission of guilt:
Similar stories were told again and again across Kennedy's district, which covers a swath of suburbs, strip malls and run-down mill towns around the northern and eastern borders of the state. From Pawtucket to Woonsocket, the six-term representative's sins were often forgiven almost before they were admitted, and by people who said they were motivated by his hard work, his power or just the traditional indulgence granted to Kennedys in this region.
In terms of political calculation, it might be silly to assume any local political damage to Son of Ted, since as Fahrenthold notes, he didn't even have a Republican opponent until Friday, a day after the crash hit the news. It might seem obvious that his district has more Democrats than Republicans, and his career will probably continue. But this story largely lines up a queue of excuse-makers and toadies without exploring for the reader whether all these people quoted are die-hard Democrats who'd vote for Kennedy no matter what he did. There seem to be no identifiable local Republicans worth quoting in Pawtucket.
Tom DeLay had plenty of local Texas constitutents willing to stand by him, but the media used DeLay as a national problem for Republicans. (It's hard to imagine the Post would have published a story from Sugarland, Texas without homegrown DeLay critics in it.) Likewise, the Kennedy story is not just a Pawtucket story, but a story with the potential to undercut the "culture of corruption" issues the House and Senate Democrats want to ride to a majority.
The omnipresent source in these stories is Brown University professor Darrell West, who sounds like a paid spokesman for the congressman. "Kennedy is very popular in Rhode Island," said West to the Post, who wrote a book on the representative, "Patrick Kennedy: The Rise to Power," in 2000. "And the fact that he's admitted he needs help will help defuse the situation."
A little Googling shows that the Amazon.com page for the West book has a "spotlight review" which suggests West is in the Kennedy tank: "Dr. West tries to steer clear of the gossip, and just focus on the politics. He is successful, but his so praising of his subject that he comes across as fawning, rather than impartial."
Then, from West's own website, a 2001 roast of Kennedy, where West made cocaine jokes and thought of retitling his book "From The Penthouse to the Outhouse." Apparently, we kid because we love:
Many of you know that Congressman Kennedy has been very active in fighting bio-terrorism. In fact, there was a big anthrax scare early in October at Kennedy headquarters. They found a white powdery substance on his desk. Kennedy staffers wanted to call in the State Police for testing. The Congressman was very courageous He said he was sure it was white sugar. And then he really impressed his staff by volunteering to take a spoon, clean it up, and take it home. You didn't see Senator Daschle or Tom Brokaw doing that.
Some of you may have seen my book about Kennedy that was published last year, Patrick Kennedy: The Rise to Power. There are several questions I often get asked about this book.
1) are there any changes you would make in the book if it came out this year instead of last year? After all, there was the airport incident, the trashed yacht, and the girlfriend rescued late at night by the Coast Guard. But to be perfectly honest, there really aren't big changes I would make. Maybe I would have a slightly different subtitle. Instead of Patrick Kennedy: The Rise to Power, I might have used something like Patrick Kennedy: From the Penthouse to the Outhouse.