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.
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.
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.
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.
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.