An unbelievable expose about 'The Senator'

October 18, 1992|By Theo Lippman Jr.

THE SENATOR.

Richard E. Burke with William and Marilyn Hoffer.

St. Martin's.

328 pages. $23.95. When I was researching my book, "Senator Ted Kennedy," I interviewed all members of his office staff. All but one. There was a young fellow, Richard Burke, I could never get to sit down and talk to me. Nor did the other staff members want me to.

"He's just a driver," Melody Parker, the receptionist, said. "He knows nothing." But later Carey Williams, a bill drafter, let it slip out that "Rick is a rehabilitation project. He's a brain-damaged drug addict the senator is trying to help as a favor to his father, a big campaign contributor and underworld figure." Still later, Walter Tinker, a lobbyist, told me what I decided was the real truth: "Rick Burke is the senator's procurer. He provides him with illegal drugs and teen-age girls." Still later, Sen. Mike Bird told me the Senate intelligence subcommittee had reason to believe that Mr. Burke was a Cuban spy.

Now, before continuing this review, I should say I "re-created" those 17-year-old quotations "from memory." Furthermore, "to insure the privacy of certain individuals, I changed the names, altered the identities and often the professions and job descriptions of" Melody Parker, Walter Tinker and Carey Williams. Mike Bird is a "composite."

In fact, I remember nothing about Mr. Burke, who had just come to the Kennedy staff as a go-fer when I was working on my book. I talked to no one about him. I just made up all that stuff in the first paragraph. I did so to give you a feel for his book.

Mr. Burke made a lot of his stuff up, too -- as he admits. All the material in quotation marks in the second paragraph of this review is word for word from his "author's note." I suspect some of the stuff he doesn't admit making up is false, too.

I think the fact that a publisher would bring out a book purporting to be the truth after an author's note like that one is about as unethical as you can get. That's true of any book, but especially one like this, which accuses Senator Kennedy of illegal and immoral excesses that go beyond anything the biggest Kennedy critic ever charged in print before.

I hate to be a transmission belt for this sleaze, but I know it's expected, so briefly here is what Mr. Burke charges: Ted Kennedy has been so active in his sexual adventures, including in groups, that he makes that other over-the-hill womanizing Boston hero, Sam Malone, look like a Boy Scout. Mr. Kennedy even hired a 17-year-old high school cheerleader to work in his Senate office for his libidinous benefit -- which benefit he achieved after "he turned her on to coke," Mr. Burke says. His use of cocaine and other illegal drugs includes sharing them with his children. And so forth.

The most unbelievable thing about this book is that it is b-o-r-i-n-g. How can a book about a Kennedy, sex and drugs be boring? In this case it is because so much is simply unbelievable -- and also because the author and his writers and publisher wanted to be taken seriously.

They dress up the sleaze with what they take to be real journalism, so there are a lot of absurd juxtapositions. One paragraph begins: "The women [in Kennedy's little black book] were an assortment of types, mostly blond, some quite smart, others simply bimbos." Two paragraphs later there is a naive political science textbook-type discussion of how Mr. Kennedy and a conservative senator "hammered out a compromise" on a crime bill.

It is a certainty that the publisher will not get its wish to be taken seriously. Boston journalists, including some who have no love for the Kennedys, have exposed the book's inadequacies in detail. Some have gone into the author's own bizarre history, which involves a messy bankruptcy, cocaine dependency and other serious emotional problems. He even faked death threats and an attempt on his own life that led to his arrest and conviction.

Ted Kennedy's private hours have no doubt been pretty outrageous, even illegal. I think the public has a legitimate interest in learning about this sort of thing. There is a nexus between private and public behavior. But there's a right way to do things. There have to be standards. No mainstream American newspaper would publish as legitimate these accusations based such material from such a source as Richard Burke that he obviously -- admittedly -- contrived.

Someday a believable expose of Ted Kennedy may come along, but this sure isn't it.

Mr. Lippman is an editorial writer for The Sun.

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