The Globe roars
There are, without a doubt, conservatives inside and outside Massachusetts who expect the Boston Globe's new biography of Ted Kennedy — Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy — to be a whitewash of a liberal politician by a liberal media outlet. But if they actually decide to read the book, they'll be surprised. Yes, the narrative arc is one of redemption (or at least recovery), as the subtitle suggests — and as Kennedy's later years in the US Senate warrant. But Ted's weaknesses and vices, and those of his family, get plenty of critical attention.
At Kennedy's first wedding, for example, the book describes brother John F. Kennedy reassuring him that getting married doesn't mean you actually have to be faithful. Ted subsequently put that advice into practice, thereby exacerbating the problems that his then-wife, Joan, had with alcohol. When Edward McCormack insisted on running against Kennedy for the Senate seat formerly held by JFK, he presumptuously tried to buy McCormack off with some sort of federal appointment, to be engineered by his brother, the president. Later, Kennedy embarrassed himself by backing the nomination for a federal judgeship of Francis X. Morrissey, a former coat holder for Joe Kennedy Sr., and a man of profoundly limited abilities and qualifications.
Meanwhile, the great stain on Kennedy's life and reputation — i.e., the crash at Chappaquiddick that killed Mary Jo Kopechne — takes up roughly 10 percent of the book. And those 40-or-so pages are pretty tough: among other things, Last Lion suggests that Joan Kennedy's trip to Pennsylvania for Kopechne's funeral may have precipitated her third miscarriage; describes Ted Kennedy's comportment in his long-delayed post-crash statement as "muted . . . almost mechanical"; and concludes that Kopechne's death and the senator's subsequent behavior constituted a "crucial failure of [Kennedy's] moral strength." In short, his is no hagiography.
Work on the Last Lion, which hit stores on February 17, began only this past June. But the book doesn't read like a rush project, perhaps because so many hands were involved. Seven Globe staffers did most of the writing; about as many Globe alumni contributed their recollections; and three freelancers served as researchers and fact-checkers. (The book was written without help from Kennedy, who's currently writing his autobiography for the Hachette Book Group USA, and was contractually precluded from cooperating.)
Not surprisingly, the Globe is using Last Lion to drum up business for the paper and its Web site, boston.com; a condensed, seven-part bio of Kennedy's life debuted in the paper this past Sunday, accompanied by some splashy, complimentary multimedia. But Peter Canellos, the Globe's Washington bureau chief, also sees the book as a counterargument to those — including your correspondent — who've suggested diminishing the paper's presence in our nation's capital.
"I think what this shows is how, in Boston, local politics and national politics are intertwined," Canellos tells the Phoenix. "We have so many national figures in our delegation: not just Kennedy, but John Kerry, Barney Frank, Ed Markey. And then there's Mitt Romney. National politics is a local industry in Boston, and the Globe's made a sustained commitment to Washington coverage, because we see it as complimenting our local mission." As Canellos and others work to make the case for the continued existence of the Globe's Washington bureau, Last Lion is likely to help their cause.
To read the "Don't Quote Me" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/medialog. Adam Reilly can be reached at email@example.com.