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Thursday marks 50 years since Ted Kennedy, the liberal Democrat from Massachusetts, drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island and left Mary Jo Kopechne to drown in the back seat. For decades, journalists and the TV networks downplayed the incident and portrayed the senator as the victim.
Despite the circumstances, New York Times correspondent James Reston’s initial coverage in 1969 framed the story as a "Kennedy family" tragedy, rather than as a tragedy for the Kopechne family. As the Media Research Center's Brent Bozell and Tim Graham explained in a 2015 column:
Reston - Draft - Chappaquiddick - Tragedy - Kennedy
Reston’s first draft on Chappaquiddick began “Tragedy has again struck the Kennedy family.” The actual victim was submerged in paragraph four. Luckily, the Times edited it to put the actual victim in the lede. When Kennedy spoke to the nation with his dishonest narrative about what happened, Reston was oozing again, that Teddy was a “tragic ‘profile in courage.’”
On July 18, 1989, NBC Nightly News journalists Andrea Mitchell and Mary Alice Williams used the 20th anniversary less to reflect on Kennedy's wrongdoing and more to tout how the Senator was “winning respect.”
MARY - ALICE - WILLIAMS - Substitute - Years
MARY ALICE WILLIAMS, substitute anchor: It was 20 years ago tonight that a car swerved off a small bridge on Chappaquiddick Island off Massachusetts’s coast, and Chappaquiddick gave its name to a turning point in our political life. The car sank in the shallow water, and a young passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, was drowned. The driver, a young senator named Edward Kennedy, survived. But it changed his life and possibly ended his dream of becoming President. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell tonight on how Ted Kennedy is winning respect, 20 years later.
TED KENNEDY: On the issue of refugees and asylum, I yield to no one in my commitment in that area!
ANDREA - MITCHELL - Immigration - Law
ANDREA MITCHELL: In reforming the immigration law...
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