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Richard (RJ) Eskow Headshot

The "Kennedy Curse," the "Bush/Cheney Blessing" - and the Journalists Behind Them Both

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The "Kennedy curse" that's touched so many members of that family is no more supernatural than the "Bush/Cheney blessing" that's provided such good "luck" for that clan - unless Big Media's your Higher Power* and the DC press corps is its band of Beltway Angels. Journalists: They giveth and they taketh away.

Look at the handling of Patrick Kennedy's recent arrest, and compare it to the coverage of Dick Cheney shooting somebody in the face. And, while you're at it, give a thought to the hapless DC cops now being reprimanded for doing exactly the same thing for Kennedy that was done for Cheney in Texas. Would somebody please give our first responders a rule book on who gets special treatment and who gets throw in the slammer?

Kennedy. Cheney. Two guys with a history of serious alcohol abuse (and, at least in Kennedy's case, drug abuse.) Both are involved in an accident. Both are allowed to skip being tested for drugs and alcohol - Kennedy because the cops didn't administer one, and Cheney because he was allowed to avoid seeing law enforcement altogether for 18 hours.

Both of them made statements to law enforcement denying that alcohol was consumed prior to the accident. In Cheney's case, at least, we now know that was a lie - and yet there's been no legal repercussion and virtually no press coverage of his falsehood.

One's just a Congressman (I say "just a Congressman" because, in DC, members of Congress aren't exactly at the top of the food chain.) The other's the Vice President of the United States. Yet the "special treatment" given the Congressman is splashed all over the papers and the media, while the law enforcement angle to the Cheney story was all but ignored.

(And when I brought it up at the time, Tucker Carlson called me a "slanderer." Will he and his ilk go after Michelle Malkin the same way over her Kennedy coverage, which has been ... oh, what's the word ... slimy?)

So here's the real "Kennedy curse." The Kennedys and their problems still make great copy, and they're a family riddled with alcoholism and addiction. JFK got a free ride from the press during his Presidency for his womanizing (that's an addiction, too), his "Dr. Feelgood" amphetamine shots, and his now-famous little suitcase full of pills. When Teddy drove that car off a bridge, though, it was open season on every Kennedy mishap - and there were plenty.

I know a little bit about addiction/alcoholism and recovery, and it's a self-diagnosed condition. Enough Kennedys have gone into recovery, however, that it's a safe statement that there's a lot of addiction in the family. Guess what other family has the same problem...

Our current President's drunk-driving arrest was ignored by the press for years. When it finally came to light in the 2000 campaign it was treated cavalierly - as were those videotapes of his drunken behavior, and his attempted drunken fistfight with his father. Other members of his family, including at least one daughter, his niece, and most recently his nephew, have had their alcohol-related brushes with the law.

Why no talk of a "Bush curse" (except, perhaps, on the rest of us)? Partially because, thankfully for the family, there have been no tragic early deaths like the Kennedys have endured. But many examples of the "Kennedy curse" were caused by addictive/alcoholic behavior - including Chappaquiddick, Michael's death, and Patrick's troubles.

While there's been some coverage of Bush family travails, they've been downplayed and relegated to the back pages. The press has treated the Bush family differently, as it treated Cheney differently on that Texas ranch. Why? For one thing, the Bushes and Cheneys aren't as glamorous and charismatic as the Kennedys. It is all about readership, after all.

More importantly, the Kennedys - despite their prominence and cachet - have no executive power. They can't punish the press, the way the Bushes and their allies can - and do - when they're crossed. Nor have they ever shown themselves to be hostile to the press in that way.

In short, the "Bush/Cheney blessing" is the fear they've instilled in the press, and the power they still carry to reward or punish. Shoot a guy in the face, hide from the sheriff overnight, and then lie to him in the morning about it? We'll cover for you.

Sure, we'll slap Scottie around - but not because of the possible cover-up. That's just because you didn't tell us fast enough. But let a Kennedy slip up, even a lowly Congressman, and we're going at it with both barrels.

Whatever's the addict's last name - Kennedy, Bush, Cheney, yours, or mine - they deserve the opportunity to recover. For most, recovery means taking responsibility for your condition and correcting it. That's what I wish for all who suffer from this illness.

I find myself in agreement with Andrew Sullivan on this issue. We should de-stigmatize addicts and alcoholics, and make it easier for them to get treatment. But it's not good for them, or for anyone else, to give someone a free pass to continue their addictive behavior - especially not because they hold a position of power.

Patrick Kennedy's special treatment is just as wrong as Cheney's. But it's a lot less important, since Cheney's raises the possibility that we may have at least one unrecovered drunk with his finger hovering near the nuclear trigger. I don't know if that's true or not, but I sure wish we had a press that was trying to find out.

But here's the thing: people don't really want to read about Cheney's private life, or Bush's. They do want to read about the Kennedys, so the press wants to write about them. And there isn't a thing the family can do to stop them.

And that's the real "Kennedy curse."
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(*I don't want the "higher power" reference to fuel the reputation my "hymn for the rest of us" has apparently given me as some kind of Fundamentalist Christian. I'm not - I like the Head Guy but I'm not too impressed with a lot of the people who throw his name around.)


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