And yet, this seems to be a case of selective anniversary journalism. July 18, 2009 will be the 40th anniversary of the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick, who drowned after Ted Kennedy drove the car she was in off a bridge. Kennedy swam to safety and then failed to call the police until the following day. Will ABC and other networks reminisce about the things the 29-year-old might have accomplished?
Shipman talked to Kennedy Jr. friend Rob Littell about the young man’s presidential ambitions. ABC also featured side-by-side footage of JFK Jr. And Barack Obama. As an image of Kennedy, superimposed against the White House appeared onscreen, Shipman enthused, "And a decade later, it's still the potential we remember, the what-might-have-been."
On June 5, 2008, the 40th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s death, Shipman compared the late New York senator to Obama. She noted the similarities between the two men and nostalgically declared, "The search to shift that mantle, futile of course. But also a quintessentially American desire for, if not a happy ending, some sense of completion."
A transcript of the July 16 segment, which aired at 7:16am, follows:
CHRIS CUOMO: Today, as you may know, marks a very somber anniversary. It has been ten years since John F. Kennedy Jr. died, along with his wife and sister-in-law in a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. A decade later, we remember the prince of Camelot. And there are new, never-before-seen home movies of him. Senior national correspondent Claire Shipman has more.
CLAIRE SHIPMAN: It was ten years ago, that we woke up to a beautiful, clear, Saturday morning. One that gave no hint to the dangerous and dark storms of the night before, until we turned on a television.
[Overlapping montage of anchors breaking in with the news of JFK’s plane crash.]
SHIPMAN: We watched with a growing sense of foreboding and group anguish. For despite his very private nature, John Kennedy Jr., his very existence had somehow come to represent a critical link to our fairy tale past. And always, always the possibility of another chapter.
ROB LITTELL (Friend): I had this terrible sense of horror for my friend. And I also had a personal sense of, "Oh, my God. I'm going to be mourning my friend my whole life."
SHIPMAN: For the first time after ten years, close friend Rob Littell decided to share with Good Morning America this never-before-seen home footage of John, toasting him and fiancé Fran at their rehearsal dinner for their 1991 dinner wedding.
JOHN F. KENNEDY JR.: I just met Fran and Rob this evening. They made quite an impression on me.
SHIPMAN: Rob describes a man motivated by a strong sense of decency. But, what's most compelling about what his friend has to say, ten years on, is that although he never admitted it publicly, John had very clear political ambitions.
LITTELL: He wanted to become the president of the United States. And over the years that I knew him, he had been preparing for that.
SHIPMAN: John would have been close to 50 today. [B-roll video appears onscreen: Split screen of JFK Jr. On the left and Obama on the right.] And there are times, Rob says, that he still indulges in the what ifs about a certain match-up, for instance.
LITTELL: I predicted that John would go for 2012. But things moved quickly. Obama showed up. He had three years as a senator. So, they probably would have had a similar set of experiences.
SHIPMAN: And a decade later, it's still the potential we remember, the-what-might-have-been. [Onscreen photoshopped image of John centered into a photograph of the White House.] For Good Morning America, Claire Shipman, ABC News, Washington.
CUOMO: So much of that what might have been, because of his age. He was just my age. 38 Going on 39, when he passed away. Putting politics aside. For all that was obvious about John, the beauty, the charm, it was what you didn't see about that made him so special. So gracious. Did so much good work to help people with foundations and other work he did during his short lifetime.
ROBIN ROBERTS: It was very important to his mother.
CUOMO: It was.
ROBERTS: And he was able to do that in a relatively short amount of time.