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Jewish World Review July 20, 1999 /7 Av, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Econophone

The media lose
their heads, again

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
ONE NEEDN'T BE A LIBERAL democrat to feel terribly sad at the tragic death of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and her sister. The Bessettes, who lost two daughters simultaneously, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, who has lost the last remaining member of her immediate family, are particularly to be prayed for.

John F. Kennedy Jr. grew up with more sympathy and good will than any child this side of the Dalai Lama. Every American over the age of 40 or so remembers his heart-breaking salute to his father's casket at the funeral in 1963 (and those too young to recall it have seen pictures). The brave, solemn little boy in short pants bidding his father goodbye is one of the saddest pictures in American political history.

But other pictures of John Jr.'s childhood are known to us as well -- earlier, happier times. He was photographed playing under the desk in the Oval Office (a picture that captured some of the charm of the Kennedy presidency) and caught squealing with delight as his father tossed him into the air. Later on, his mother protected him so that he could grow to adulthood with some semblance of privacy.

Privacy, but not -- it seems important to add -- normality. He was raised as a prince in a nation that abjured royalty politically but cannot completely shake it psychologically. He had wealth, connections, intelligence, comeliness -- in short, glamour. He was the embodiment of the Beautiful Person.

Such riches did not come without a price. Every step he took, each decision, was open to comment and interpretation by 10,000 prying eyes and typewriters. He chose Brown instead of Harvard. He went to law school instead of Hollywood. He became a magazine publisher instead of a politician.

Kennedy at George magazine's unveiling
If the scrutiny troubled him, it didn't show. He could laugh about it. At the unveiling of George Magazine, Kennedy thanked the press for attending and then noted that he hadn't seen such an impressive turnout since the bar exam results were announced (John Jr. flunked the New York bar twice before passing on the third try).

He seems to have been a good fellow (with the unfortunate lapse of inviting Larry Flynt to the White House Correspondents Dinner), and someone who declined to take the easy path that was so available.

But the media, in their desperate competition for viewers, have once again lost all sense of proportion. The non-stop coverage of the fruitless search for the missing plane might have been justifiable if the sitting president's son were lost, but for a former president's son? Suppose one of Reagan's sons had gone missing, or one of Johnson's daughters?

No, for the media, the Kennedys are royalty. And no other American family comes close. Several of the network anchors became personal in their grief. "The Kennedys are our family too," choked one overwrought correspondent. Such exhibitionism served only to highlight the distance between the famous and the rest of us --underscoring the suspicion most viewers already nurture that the media big shots are part of a tiny elite that circulates with other members of the elect and has only limited understanding of ordinary people. Oh, yes, and one other impression is left as well -- that members of the elect are almost exclusively Democrats.

It implies no disrespect at all to the Kennedy clan to say that the media have simply lost their heads over this story. One network commentator offered the view that we will all remember "where we were" when John Jr.'s plane went down just as we all recall what we were doing when his father was assassinated. That is just absurd.

Kennedy will be missed -- but mostly by his family, which is not The American Family, but only one among millions.


JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate