FOLLOWING CHAPPAQUIDDICK – Garry Armstrong

Chappaquiddick was one of the stories I covered in 1969, that memorable turn of the road year for so many people.

I first covered “Chappy”  for ABC News.  I was just a back up newsie for the network reporter.  Steve Bell, I think.  Tommy would remember him.  Bell introduced me to all the people we interviewed. I tried to keep the names with the faces.  Teddy, Rose, Ethel, Eunice, Sarge , as well as many of the young women Ellin Curley mentioned in her post.

I kept a low profile,  taking notes for Bell so he could move around more easily.  I didn’t say much of anything to anyone. Ted usually greeted me with “Hey, there!”  That was his normal greeting for most people.

He was bad with names. Years later, I would prank him about that.

There was an obvious “Kennedy line” between them and us.  Steve Bell was a gracious reporter, knowing when to not be pushy.  Steve also covered Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, so we had a bond. He trusted me — unlike some of his other ABC colleagues.  I (ironically) heard some of the Kennedys talking after Steve would wrap an interview.

Chappaquiddick Bridge (2007)

I was pretty much invisible to them.  They were nervous about some of the questions.  Sarge Shriver was always hovering, making sure our drinks were refilled.

ABC’s take on “Chappy”  left me with many unanswered questions.

The Kopechne family was guarded, suspicious of the media and its Kennedy bias.  Rumors flew about older reporters on the take from Daddy Joe Kennedy.  They were just rumors for me.  I never had any factual knowledge of hinky stuff.  I met old Joe once at a cocktail party on the Hyannisport compound.  He was distant but not rude.  Someone had apparently whispered to him about me. I never found out what.

I next met the Kennedys during my brief tenure as co-anchor at Ch-18 News in Hartford. Ch 18 was a small RKO-General station. I was the token Black guy and the first one to anchor in that market.  Whenever something “sensitive” came up,  I would be dispatched to cover it.

Kennedy compound – Hyannisport

There was a “Chappy” anniversary.  I was sent to the Hyannisport compound.  This time,  I wasn’t invisible. Many congratulated me on my promotion to co-anchor and said they liked my work.  I didn’t buy any of it so I just smiled.  They seemed to favor me out of the horde of reporters from around the world. Big names like Rather,  Brokaw,  Frank Reynolds, Donaldson, and so on.

Garry and Tip O’Neill

The stars were upset with the favoritism they thought I was getting from the Kennedys. I continued to smile.  In truth, the family was just re-wrapping the same stories I was told when I was with ABC.  They made me the “local favored TV newsie.” Newspapers ran with the same crap.  Ch-18 loved it and milked it for months until Channel 7 in Boston came beckoning for me.

Over the years, I did numerous Kennedy stories.  They always treated me with respect because I didn’t overtly push the line.  I used sources for that stuff and feigned ignorance when confronted about my involvement.

The Kennedy men

Ted Kennedy became one of those people I would describe as a “good acquaintance,” but not a friend.  We were on first name basis — when he could remember my name.  He sometimes frequented the same bar used by Tip O’Neill, myself, other pols and media.

Tip always assured Ted that I was a good guy, one you could trust.  I always bought the next round for Tip, and the next. Tip was the real deal.  I am flattered he thought well of me.

“Chappy” never came up in those social situations. Ted would sometimes bitch about media bias but always apologize to me.  I always smiled.

So,  that’s my “Chappy” back story.  It’ll be interesting to see what they’ve done with the film.  I have a friend who did background work for it.  I’ll have to hit him up for gossip.

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

28 thoughts on “FOLLOWING CHAPPAQUIDDICK – Garry Armstrong”

    1. A friend of our drove us along it. The only way he could have driven into the water was to be so drunk that he should never have been behind a steering wheel. He never drove a car again after that. He was lucky to be well off enough to have a driver, but I don’t think HE ever got over Chappaquiddick either.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. I am sure it did. But he was a brilliant legislator and the work he did in the senate was extraordinary. In a way, him recognizing that he had gone as far as he could go politically and setting his mind to really working the senate was a great thing. He came from a good Catholic family. He had a lot to make up for.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Ted Kennedy and his staff were usually available to folks. Constituents. Ordinary citizens. I always found that admirable given the problems one had with other elected officials. I suspect Tip “All politics is local” O’Neill influenced Kennedy.

            Liked by 1 person

      1. I share your sense that he never got over it. He went to Mass every morning. Only the most faithful Catholics attend Mass daily. He didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve. He bore it privately on his knees as a sinner redeemed by grace alone.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Gordon, I think you’re very right about Ted Kennedy. He and his family were the targets of media jokes and public cynicism. Goes with the territory. Personally, I found him to be a nice fella. Remember, I had to spend time with LOTS of Pols so I wasn’t fooled by phony charm. Phony charm? That’s another story for another day.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Good question, Gordon. I dunno. We expect to see some of my still working colleagues at a pah-ty on Saturday.
              I’ll hunt for gossip.

              Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for the memories, Garry. You were there “close up” in those important moments and so many more. The rest of us weren’t. Might you say more as to why the Kennedys favored you over the others? I have my hunches, but….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Evelyne. Seems as if I was in the cross hairs of these events. I didn’t think about historical import while covering the stories……you’re “in the moment”.

      Like

          1. Nope. Don’t think they will. I’m sure the new generation of reporters are eargerly in pursuit of “the truth”. Good luck!

            Like

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