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Chappaquiddick Incident

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    Incidents that occur in a politician’s life are put under the spotlight and receive a greater deal of attention than ones in a civilian’s life. For this reason, celebrities and politicians usually step up on a public platform to explain their actions. One such event happened with Ted Kennedy at Chappaquiddick Island after he left the scene of an accident and failed to report it to the authorities, which led to Mary Jo Kopechne’s death.

    To polish his tarnished image, Kennedy portrays Kopechne’s death as an accidental tragedy through bolstering, self-victimization and defeasibility. Kennedy bolsters his character and reinforces his familial image through the use of diction. Kennedy opens his speech by talking about his reason for being at Chappaquiddick Island, to participate in an annual regatta with his “nephew, Joe Kennedy”. By talking about family traditions that he continues to participate in for a long time and mentioning his nephew, Kennedy paints himself as a family man.

    He portrays himself as an upstanding member of society who spends time with his family those he cares about. Kennedy alleges that Mary Jo Kopechne was treated in a caring and loving manner to make her feel that “she still had a home with the Kennedy family”. Kennedy further bolsters his image as a generous man by showing how he and his relatives welcomed Kopechne as a family member with compassionate thoughts. By bolstering his image as a family man, Kennedy establishes that he would not do anything wrong on purpose or out of malicious intent.

    He also instigates that he would never have a romantic relationship with Kopechne because of his familial ties with her and in fact causes the reader to feel shame for believing such “ugly speculation”. Because of the way Kennedy sets up his image, he forces the audience to be embarrassed for entertaining an idea that disgraces himself and his relationship with Kopechne. Through self-victimization, Kennedy creates pity and sympathy for himself. Kennedy shifts blame away from himself by portraying himself as a victim of the accident rather than someone who caused it.

    Kennedy says that “the car” that he was driving “went off on a narrow bridge” rather than him driving off a narrow bridge. His assertion makes it seem as though the car is at fault and he was just an unfortunate by-stander who happened to be caught in the crossfire. Kennedy does not mention Kopechne at all and focuses on himself and what he was experiencing during the accident. “The sensation of drowning” and the cold water as they fell into the lake led to Kennedy’s “emotional trauma”. He shows that he was panicked and shocked and could not function as he, himself was a victim.

    Kennedy mentions that he was overcome by a multitude of emotions: “grief, fear…panic, confusion, and shock”, but never once was he overcome by guilt for not reporting the accident to the authorities. He does not mention feeling guilty so that he does not seem culpable for not reporting the accident. Rather, a moral obligation compelled Kennedy to plead guilty. Additionally, Kennedy employs defeasibility to excuse himself from the crime of leaving the scene of an accident. Kennedy further restores his image by claiming that he was physically and mentally unable to help Kopechne.

    Although Kennedy does not do anything that would have truly helped Kopechne, he says that he tried to save her by diving into the water. He supposedly only increased his “state of utter exhaustion”. Using his inability to swim in the water, Kennedy justifies letting Kopechne die in the lake. Not only was Kennedy physically incapable of doing anything, but also mentally. Having suffered a “cerebral concussion” and most probably impaired judgment due to alcohol, the senator implies that he was in no position to think rationally.

    He claims that accident was not truly his fault and he could not have saved Kopechne even though he tried, all the while shifting attention to himself. Through the use of defeasibility, Kennedy validates his lack of direction and irresponsibility. His “scrambled thoughts” were too confusing, in his opinion, for him to realize what was transpiring. According to Kennedy, he was in a puzzled state of mind; so much so, that he could not prevent Kopechne from passing away.

    Although Kennedy never mentions Kopechne more than three times in his speech, he artfully crafts his oration such that at the end of it, most of the audience will cease to doubt his intentions. Kennedy uses various image restoration techniques in his speech to shift attention to himself as a victim of the accident and away from himself as a perpetrator of the accident. The speech is not a means of apologizing to Mary Jo’s family, rather a way for Kennedy to salvage his career of being a senator and ensure that the public still supports him.

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    Chappaquiddick Incident. (2016, Dec 20). Retrieved from

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