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How Richard Nixon used Chappaquiddick scandal to squash Ted Kennedy’s presidential aspirations

Destroying a dynasty: How Richard Nixon used Chappaquiddick scandal to squash Ted Kennedy’s presidential aspirations – and suggested the victim, 28, died after performing ‘immoral act’

  • Richard Nixon used the  Chappaquiddick scandal to kill Ted Kennedy’s plans to possibly challenge him in the 1972 election 
  • The 1969 car accident that resulted in the death of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne is the focus of the new season of Fox News’ Scandalous 
  • In a memo from one Nixon official, the victim herself is accused of possibly committing an ‘immoral act’ that could have impacted her afterlife 
  • Kennedy did not run in the end, and in 1980 his one bid for president was also derailed by the scandal  
  • Nixon’s tactics will be the focus of the new episode of Scandalous: Chappaquiddick when it airs Sunday at 8pm on Fox News

Ted Kennedy’s dream of one day becoming president continued even after the Chappaquiddick scandal.

This is the focus of the new episode of Scandalous airing this Sunday on Fox News, which takes a look at how the then-sitting president Richard Nixon used the tragedy to killed Kennedy’s aspirations for a spot in the Oval Office. 

‘The Nixon White House was obviously very interested in this case because it had always been assumed that Teddy would be running against Richard Nixon when he sought reelection in 1972,’ explains Boston herald columnist Howie Carr in an exclusive clip from the episode. 

Thomas Whalen, the Associate Professor of Social Services at Boston University then points out how documents and recordings that are now in the public record show how Nixon and his team plotted to bring Kennedy down following the crash.

Kennedy had escaped unscathed, while his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, lost her life.

‘They saw this as kind of a silver bullet to end Ted Kennedy’s political career forever,’ says Whalen of the Nixon administration. 


At odds: Richard Nixon used the Chappaquiddick scandal to kill Ted Kennedy’s plans to possibly challenge him in the 1972 election (Nixon and Kennedy above in August 1969, just weeks after the Chappaquiddick scandal )

Nixon Memo

Mary Jo Kopechne

Low blow: In a memo from one administration member, the victim herself is accused of possibly committing an ‘immoral act’ that could have impacted her afterlife

Nixon was also considering going after the victim, with one file at the time stating that she likely died after performing an ‘immoral act.’

That memo, from administration member Jack Caufield, went on to state that since Kennedy fled the scene a priest was not able to read the victim her last rites. 

‘The extreme importance … needs no explanation here,’ reads the memo, hointing that the victim’s afterlife might have been impacted by her and Kennedy’s actions that night. 

Nixon’s aggressive line was no surprise to those who were familiar with his tactics explains Whalen.  

‘Nixon’s reputation for being a pretty tough counter puncher, now if you’re going to challenge him for the presidency, everything is on the table here, including what happened in Chappaquiddick,’ Whalen points out.

Nixon was able to kill Kennedy’s plan of a possible run, but not derail his future in the Congress.

At the time, Kennedy was the Majority Whip in the Senate, seven years after he won a special election in Massachusetts for the seat vacated by his brother John when he was elected president.

He would hold that seat until his death in 2009, and did once attempt a run for president against incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980, a race he lost.

Carter then subsequently lost to Ronald Reagan in the general election

Kennedy had been the frontrunner due to Carter’s abysmal approval rating at the time, which at one point dipped below 20 percent.

That lead began to narrow however when the Chappaquiddick scandal was revisited and Kennedy failed to adequately address the tragedy. 

Kennedy had gone Martha’s Vineyard to race in the Edgartown Regatta and on the evening of July 18, 1969, attended a party at a rented house on Chappaquiddick Island. Guests included Kennedy friends and several women, including Kopechne, who had worked on the presidential campaign of his brother Robert F. Kennedy, assassinated a year earlier.

Kennedy and Kopechne, 28, left the party together and a short time later their car plunged into Poucha Pond. Kennedy escaped from the submerged vehicle and said he made several futile attempts to rescue Kopechne, who was trapped inside.

Kennedy, who died in 2009, later described his failure to report the incident to police for 10 hours as ‘indefensible.’

Scandalous: Chappaquiddick airs Sunday at 8pm on Fox News.




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