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Western Press Review: Commentary Seeks Meaning In Kennedy Crash

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba



Prague, 19 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- World press commentary from Rome to San Francisco takes up the feared death of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and her sister, in what -- available evidence suggests -- was an avoidable airplane crash. The plane piloted by the son of the former U.S. president disappeared off the U.S. Atlantic coast late Friday.

GUARDIAN: He died of a curse

So widespread and varied is the international reaction that columnist Decca Aitkenhead, writing in The Guardian, London, comments on press commentary itself. She observes: "JFK Junior's disappearance is being treated, not only in America but all over the world, as the inevitable next chapter in what commentators and the public like to call the Curse of the Kennedys. John F. Kennedy didn't die from a plane crash, apparently. He died of a curse. 'The curse of the Kennedys strikes again,' was how one British Sunday newspaper's front page broke the news, and there was not a single paper which could resist lingering over the phrase. In Italy, the headlines were 'The curse kills another Kennedy,' 'The royal and cursed dynasty,' and 'The beautiful and the damned.' In Belgium, it was 'The curse pursues the Kennedy clan,' while back in London, the Sunday Mirror made do with the one word headline: 'Cursed.'"

NEW YORK TIMES: I don't believe in curses

In The New York Times, political columnist William Safire denies the notion of a curse, and deplores the sentimentalism that this latest Kennedy tragedy awakens. Safire writes: "Life is unfair, said President John F. Kennedy when asked about the resentment that reservists felt about being called up for Vietnam service." Safire continues: "I don't believe in curses or any other form of predestination. Allowing for genetic breaks, we are free to make much of our own fate."

The JFK Jr. "accident," Safire writes, "apparently was brought on by a lack of judgment." He adds: "To confront this fact draws the anguished ire of some of his good friends, which is understandable in an emotion-laden moment." Safire goes on: "John F. Kennedy Jr. deserves better from the media than the Princess Di treatment. Will no friend or loyalist do him justice?"

Safire concludes: "He did not fall victim to any Kennedy curse. The icon-busting Book of Job in the Christian Bible teaches that God does not micromanage the universe, and that free-willed human beings are responsible for actions and injustices. That's why life is unfair."

IL MESSAGERO: There is no equal to the horrendous Kennedy series

Rome's Il Messagero editorializes: "Beautiful and damned. This double lot which welds together in a mysterious way three generations of Kennedys ordains the premature end that seals everything. The good little soldier who saluted at the grave of his father became in time the man with the great sex appeal. In many dynasties there nestles the might of the myth of the germ of death. But certainly there is no equal to the horrendous Kennedy series."

LA REPUBBLICA: The contract holds from generation to generation

Il Messagero's neighboring publication, La Repubblica, observes editorially: "The Kennedy garden was decorated for a wedding, now it's a funeral. On Friday evening the gardener of fate returned to this house, shredded the large white tents pitched for the guests, trampled on the five-tier cakes, tore the veils and bouquets from the hands of the children and mowed down the biggest and most precious flower in the Kennedy garden, John-John. The patient gardener understands the clauses of the tragic treaty which the Kennedys have signed. He leaves them to grow, to blossom and become Kennedys. Then he fells them. The contract holds from generation to generation."

WASHINGTON POST: It would be nice if his memory could be distilled in such a moment

A Washington Post editorial prophesies long and anguished comment about the latest Kennedy tragedy. And, like Safire, wishes for -- but doesn't expect -- depth over sentiment. The newspaper says: "His accident will be relentlessly scrutinized, his judgment in making his last flight questioned, his youth, glamour and fine looks remembered, his family's many sadnesses clucked over. One of Mr. Kennedy's friends recalled yesterday that when Washington College in Maryland wished to confer an honorary doctorate on him a while back, Mr. Kennedy declined. He'd be glad to make a speech, he said, but he didn't think himself worthy of the degree. We suspect that there was a lot of Mr. Kennedy in that simple declaration, and it would be nice if his memory could be distilled in such a moment. Impossible, of course, but nice, and more fitting than what we're likely to see."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The protagonists in the real life of power cannot resist this story

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung worries about the melodrama that will follow the death. It says in an editorial: "An air crash is gruesome, a cruel banality. But when the plane of a member of the Kennedy dynasty crashes, the disaster is regarded as a sign of unavoidable fate." The newspaper says: "The great saga of might and beauty, love and violence, sickness and death continues to be written. And it truly seems that the protagonists in the real life of power cannot resist this story. A Kennedy does not belong to himself, not even John F. Jr."

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: He had a gift for knowing what to do when cameras were pointed his way

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Steve Rubinstein recalls two famous news videos after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy of a three-year-old "John-John" saluting -- like a tiny soldier -- at his father's funeral and, later, scrunched under his father's desk. Rubinstein writes: "There was the picture, shown over and over, of the salute. And there was the picture, shown over and over, of the child hiding under his old man's desk."

Rubinstein says: "The two pictures say more than all the words spilling forth over the past hours: a playful attempt, amid all the trappings of power, to be himself, and a reflexive, almost instinctive, response to grief. These past hours, the grief seems real, yet rehearsed. The grievers, perhaps with the same instinct that John-John displayed with his salute, know reflexively by now what to do when a member of that haunted family is taken. And from the other picture, the one of him hiding under the desk, it is clear that he was born to a life with photographers in it and that he had a gift for knowing what to do when their cameras were pointed his way."

NEW YORK TIMES: There is a certain nobility to the Kennedys' refusal to let life intimidate them

America's Kennedy clan, editorializes The New York Times, "is a family of unfinished journeys, of magnetic personalities cut down far too early." The newspaper says: "The accident comes in the anniversary month of signature events in the Kennedy saga -- the landing on the Moon and the incident at Chappaquiddick in July of 1969." The editorial continues: "In a televised address shortly after the accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne, Senator Edward Kennedy asked whether there was 'some awful curse that hangs over all the Kennedys.' "

It continues: "John F. Kennedy Jr.'s life spanned large and important moments in the life of this country, events his father helped shape and presage at home and abroad. It would have been interesting to see whether Jack Kennedy's son could have developed his father's gifts for hard politics and inspirational leadership." The New York Times says: "Given his name and good looks, he could not humanly isolate himself from a celebrity culture that the Kennedys themselves had helped create. But he kept his dignity and sense of humor about the mixed blessings of inescapable fame, and he did not misuse his advantages in a cheesy or frivolous way."

The Times says: "There remains the question of whether he should have chanced the flight at all." But goes on: "Surely one does not wish to condemn him now for poor judgment, only to observe that the Kennedys have always been risk-takers, in play, politics and war. At its best, there is a certain nobility to the Kennedys' refusal to let life intimidate them. But there is no escaping the hardness of this news, because of the apparent loss of three young lives and because of the broken place it touches in America's heart."

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