NY Times Op-Ed: Chappaquiddick Film Is 'Character Assassination' of Ted Kennedy

New York Times building / Getty Images
New York Times building / Getty Images
April 6, 2018

In a New York Times op-ed published Friday, a liberal journalist and film critic complained the new film Chappaquiddick was a "character assassination" of its central character, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy.

"How ‘Chappaquiddick’ Distorts a Tragedy" wrote Neal Gabler, who is working on a biography of Kennedy.

Gabler complained the film, released in theaters Friday, has been "heavily promoted by conservative media outlets, and reviewers across the political spectrum have praised what they deem its damning but factual approach. Damning it is; factual it is not."

There actually was no "cover-up" of Kennedy's car accident that led to the death of an aide, he claims, adding that "no one but the most lunatic conspiracy theorists see this as anything but a tragic accident in which nothing much was covered up."

Chappaquiddick tells the story of a car accident that occurred on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts in 1969. The accident was caused by Kennedy's negligence and resulted in the death of his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, who was trapped inside the vehicle. The screenwriters have said their efforts in making the film aren’t partisan and they aimed to tell the facts of the story. 

Gabler doesn't actually point to any factual errors in the film (save for the fact that Joe Kennedy, confined to a wheelchair by a stroke, likely wouldn't be able to grunt one-word dialogue like he does in the film). Instead, his criticism is limited more to the depiction of Kennedy as a character.

"In this version, the Kennedy character leaves Kopechne to die as she gasps for air, and then, with the aid of his brothers’ old advisers, cooks up a scheme to salvage his presidential ambitions. A more callow, cunning, cowardly and self-interested yet moronic figure you couldn’t find," he wrote.

Gabler claimed Kennedy actually felt "deep remorse and responsibility," and eventually grew to be "an indispensable legislator whose achievements included the 18-year-old vote, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program."

"It is very possible that over time, through the osmosis of social media, the despicable Kennedy of this movie will eradicate the honorable if flawed real one," Gabler wrote.

Published under: The New York Times