Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ted Kennedy

I have a Ted Kennedy story.
The year was 1980. Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy was running for President of the United States. I was a young News Director at WILK-AM radio in Wilkes-Barre, PA.
From a young age, I was schooled in the adoration of any politician named “Kennedy.”
The office in which I compose this has two large campaign posters on the wall. One is of John Kennedy. The other is Bobby Kennedy. Both are framed originals. There is no poster of Teddy.
After weeks of trying I landed a one-on-one interview with Ted Kennedy. The arrangements were made that I would interview the Senator at The Genetti Hotel as part of his campaign stop in Wilkes-Barre. Landing an interview with a Kennedy was a big deal. The Kennedy’s were immortalized around these parts. You didn’t have to be an Irish Catholic to love the Kennedys.
Now a one-on-one interview is a little misleading. As I was waiting for Kennedy to arrive, the door swung open and in walked three men wearing sunglasses and earpieces. They were the Secret Service agents assigned to protect the candidate. They were followed by a handful of the Senator’s staff. Then the pool reporters entered. In those days there were not as many reporters assigned to the campaign. Still, one wire service reporter, one newspaper reporter and one radio-television newsman served as the pool. Suddenly my one-on-one interview included almost a dozen people other than the man I was to question. My journalistic intestinal fortitude quickly turned to intestinal discomfort.
Finally Kennedy entered the room. I was struck by his size. He was a tall, handsome, well-built man with jet black hair. I had seen him a thousand times on television and in the newspapers, but being face to face made me nervous. He smiled broadly and shook my hand with what felt like a death grip.
I had pondered the questions I would ask him. There was one question I knew would not be well received but I decided to ask it anyway, and ask it first.
Kennedy had not been in Wilkes-Barre since 1969. Then, it was for a court case involving the death of Mary Jo Kopechne who died when Kennedy’s car ran off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts. Miss Kopechne’s parents buried her in a small Catholic Cemetery only a few miles from where I sat with the man who would be the next President. I had to ask the question.
“Senator, Mary Jo Kopechne is buried a few miles from here. Do you think that circumstance will affect voters here in Northeastern Pennsylvania?”
The broad smile quickly turned into a steel stare. Kennedy had not expected that question. I can remember the question word for word. I can’t remember the answer. I knew it was something about, “no,” and a quick left turn to change the subject.
The answer was short.
So was every answer to every other question I asked. I was being punished for asking “the” question.
I ran out of questions quickly and Kennedy was off to the next room for his next interview. I extended my hand but he didn’t look at me. I thanked him. Interview over.
My flop sweat could be measured in liters not drops.
I remember vividly that the last man to leave the room was NBC-TV reporter Bob Kur who looked at me, shook his head and said, “Great questions.”
I saw that look one more time when Kennedy walked off the stage at the Democratic National Convention, refusing to shake President Jimmy Carter’s hand after Kennedy ended his quest for the Presidency. I thought to myself, “Mr. President, I know how you feel.”
Since then I’ve collected a great deal of Kennedy memorabilia. None of it is about Ted Kennedy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite stories, Uncle Kevin... I'm glad you told it. Hope all is well.