August 30th, 2009
03:21 PM ET
14 years ago

Reliable Sources: Journos reflect on Kennedy and the press

WASHINGTON (CNN) - As politicians and pundits paid tribute to Sen. Ted Kennedy's legacy Sunday morning, CNN's Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz and a panel of four top journalists examined whether the media coverage of the "liberal lion" provided an accurate portrait of Kennedy's personal and professional life.

"He was justifiably lionized," Joe Klein, columnist for TIME Magazine, said. "And he just died for God sakes. I think, you know, the bad stuff was mentioned, it wasn't dwelt upon, although there were some conservative commentators who did."

Watch: More on covering Kennedy

Many print and television reporters this week have shared personal experiences they've had with the senator, but Klein said Kennedy didn't cozy up to the press to garner positive coverage.

"It was a professional relationship. But it lasted 40 years. When I first met him, he was not the guy that many journalists came to know. I met him right after the accident [in 1969 that left Mary Jo Kopechne dead.] He was very wary of the press, very awkward in public...He didn't start becoming the Kennedy tha [person] who was really praised this week until after he ran for president in 1980."

Emily Rooney, a long time Boston reporter, covered Kennedy's sometimes turbulent career, including his failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980, as did her husband, Kirby Perkins, who died from a sudden heart attack 12 years ago.

"My experience was that he was very aloof, that he was sort of unaware of who the important journalists were,” she said. “I had a personal experience with him myself. My husband was a journalist at WCVB, the ABC affiliate in Boston, and he had a heart attack and died the summer of 1997. And Ted Kennedy showed up at the hospital room. And not only did he know who my husband was, but he described how he behaved at press conferences. He said, 'well, Kirby was always in the background, jumping up and down, and he wanted to have the best perspective from the back of the room.' And that sets you back as a journalist, frankly, when you suddenly have a personal connection with somebody that is so important in your life, that you cover almost every day as a working journalist, and then, suddenly, he intersects with your life."

Tom Oliphant, who reported for The Boston Globe for nearly 40 years, said that although Kennedy for years was "a notorious no-show" on Sunday morning television, he valued his relationship with the press whether the coverage was good, bad or ugly.

"My experience from '69 forward was that he relished it. He loved the combat. He loved to argue with you. He was not afraid to come back, challenge you when he didn't like what you wrote. He was a transition. This is not like Bob Kennedy, President Kennedy from a different era. This guy liked the game."

David Broder, political columnist for the Washington Post who has covered every presidential campaign since 1960, said Senator Kennedy was able to differentiate himself from his assassinated brothers in his dealings with the press.

"His career stayed so long, and he carved out such a different role for himself. His brothers never were really important figures in the United States Senate. And he became a dominant figure in the United States Senate," Broder said.

Did the media go overboard with the wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral proceedings?

"Overboard compared to what?" Rooney asked. "Compared to the coverage of Michael Jackson? I should say not."

Rooney said the coverage accorded Kennedy's death is not likely to be matched for any political figure in the near future.

"Any living president, I don't think at this point, would get [this] kind of attention...If George Bush 1 or 2 died tomorrow, I'm not sure they would get the same kind of accolades."

Filed under: State of the Union • Ted Kennedy
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Ren from Baltimore

    Well, even Fox had an even-handed time. I was very appreciative. Sure, there were some flat comments from some of the commentators, but there were hours and hours of unscheduled time to fill. Even dear Wolf had a few _un_flat(tering) moments. Fox had no problem being silent as the occasions called for it. Thank you; that goes a long way.

    Overall, the media handled the rememberances very well, especially the long stretches of unscripted time. None were as eloquent as the family members, and neither was the President, for that matter; that was how it should have been. The personal bent to the reporters' shared memories was very welcomed. My wife and I couldn't turn the set off, Fridayh and Saturday. Thank you, all.

    August 30, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  2. Silas Kain

    Overboard? I think not. When one looks at the totality of Ted Kennedy's life what emerges is an incredible story of a man who rose to power in the Senate in the most turbulent of times in our Nation's history. He worked tirelessly in the fight against segregation.

    One can reasonably conclude that without Ted Kennedy there may not be a President Obama. Unfortunately, the President himself failed to bring that point home in his eulogy. Every major piece of legislation emanating from Congress has had Ted Kennedy's hand in it one way or the other. While the Conservatives used him as their 'loss leader' in raising cash, he was probably the most reasonable person on the Democrat side to deal with. His word was his bond. How many other politicians have that distinction?

    For years the pundits and historians will scour Kennedy's record. And in the final assessment I think we will learn that Kennedy was more a friend to Conservatism than not. He was a conciliator. He was a leader. He was, dare I say, Reagan-esque. Senator Kennedy's passing is politically equivalent to the Memorial Bridge coming down. It's a sad weekend for America and we have yet to fully comprehend the profound loss we have suffered these last few days.

    August 30, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  3. Tom in VA

    WAAAAYYYYY overboard with the coverage.

    I trust that he likely received a lot more than Mary Jo did back in the 60's, but then again, I guess he a lot more time to become famous thru his "service" and family name.

    Calling any of those elected weasles "Public Servants" is an insult to everybody who serves their country in countless ways, but without drivers, tailors, hairstylists, and outlandish benefits provided and/or sponsored by the government and "key constituents" with disproportionate access to elected officials.

    August 30, 2009 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |