The late Massachusetts senator wrote his handling of Chappaquiddick was "inexcusable"

By Stephen M. Silverman
September 03, 2009 07:30 AM
Steven Senne/AP

Before he died of brain cancer on Aug. 25, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy collaborated with writer Ron Powers on a candid memoir that is now to be published Sept. 14. The finished book, titled True Compass, has been obtained by The New York Times and pinpoints the highs and lows of Kennedy’s life.

In a passage already generating headlines, Kennedy expresses his remorse over his “inexcusable” behavior on Chappaquiddick Island on July 18, 1969, when he drove his car off a bridge and left his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, dead in the submerged vehicle for hours before he contacted police.

He says, driven by panic, he “made terrible decisions” and then lived with the guilt for more than four decades.

He also said he barely knew Kopechne, 28, a campaign worker in the Robert Kennedy campaign, and he did not have a romantic relationship with her.

Still, the senator writes, “I have enjoyed the company of women. I have enjoyed a stiff drink or two or three, and I’ve relished the smooth taste of a good wine. At times, I ve enjoyed these pleasures too much.” The Times also quotes from the book: “I’ve heard the tales about my exploits as a hell-raiser – some accurate, some with a wisp of truth to them and some so outrageous that I can’t imagine how anyone could really believe them.”

Among the many issues covered, Kennedy writes that he accepts the Warren Commission’s report that his brother John was killed by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald, and that his brother Robert attempted to help negotiate peace in Vietnam, but that incumbent President Lyndon Johnson did not trust Bobby. He blames President Jimmy Carter (whom Kennedy considered timid) for acting too slowly on heath-care reform, and reveals that he called President Bill Clinton when news broke of the Monica Lewinsky scandal – and told Clinton that he would stand by him.