`The fairy tale ends here'

July 20, 1999

Here are excerpts of reactions to the John F. Kennedy Jr. tragedy from some of the nation's newspaper editorial pages and national and local columnists:

David Nyhan, Boston Globe -- At one point in the '70s, when I was the editor running the Globe newsroom, I got a call from Dick Goodwin, [President John F. Kennedy's] speech writer and [Jacqueline Kennedy's] counselor. Would it be OK, Goodwin inquired guardedly, if John Jr. came to work for you as a reporter?

Sure, it would be OK. But it never happened. I don't know for certain, but it had to have occurred to Goodwin and John and his mother that things had gone too far for a young Kennedy to adopt the mantle of ordinariness that is essential to be a neutral recorder of small events.

Jonathan Alter, Newsweek -- He was more than our `Prince Charming,' as the New York tabs called him. We etched the past and the future on his fine face . . . he wore his royalty lightly.

William Safire, New York Times -- He did not fall victim to any "Kennedy curse." The icon-busting Book of Job 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.

Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe -- This is a time to think about the Kennedy who was more than a junior, an heir, a prince. Many years ago, on a ski slope, Bobby Kennedy found his young nephew hurting and crying. "Kennedys don't cry," Bobby told young John. As his mother would proudly repeat the tale, John looked up and said, "This Kennedy cries."

So does his country.

Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle -- Now that we've had a couple days to praise and mourn the man, maybe the gentle backlash begins. John F. Kennedy Jr. was a pleasant fellow, well-meaning and sincere and scary handsome, but harmless. Political-impact-wise, Kennedy-wise, he was more of a hood ornament than a vital moving part.

The mourning, by this reasoning, is requiem for a lightweight.

Jill Porter, Philadelphia Daily News

Yes, fate is random, and tragedy befalls even the blessed. But it stalks the Kennedy family so deliberately that it seems a message from a jealous god, an epic curse. The heart, finding no respite, is driven to such irrational explanations.

. . . The other Kennedy children don't rivet us the same way and virtually no one else alive enraptured us the way JFK Jr. did.

And so the fairy tale ends here, with him.

Philadelphia Inquirer -- By all accounts, he had an unassuming, gracious manner; he worked hard at his own career and marriage. He wore his name well, resisting the wilder temptations that haunted other members of his family.

But the daring spirit of the Kennedys was imprinted on him. How else to explain the risk he took Friday evening, when he flew into a hazy horizon shrouded in danger?

That spirit led many Kennedys to accomplish great things, inspiring a nation with a vision of an energetic, inclusive democracy. It also led some individual Kennedys to acts of recklessness and poor judgment.

Chicago Tribune -- Perhaps the constant allusions to Camelot have become cliche, but there's no doubt that John F. Kennedy Jr. reminded many people of a different time in politics, a time of great promise and profound and shocking loss. One looked at a man in his 30s and couldn't help but see the littlest victim of a national tragedy, the 3-year-old saluting as the coffin went by. And as he grew up, finished law school, struggled to pass the bar, announced his mother's death, created his magazine, got married, we marked more distance on the time line from that political era.

Sandy Grady, Philadelphia Daily News -- The Curse of the Kennedys is their own risk-taking. Their code of macho daring that crosses into recklessness is their curse. And ours. No supernatural furies pursue the clan, only its arrogance at always beating the odds. Watching the plane's debris plucked from the sea, my sadness churned into anger.

Jay Bookman, Atlanta Constitution -- The public interest in the Kennedy story is not a mystery. It is not about celebrity or glamour or fame, or at least not just those superficial concerns. It is simply human to be drawn to lives writ large, to successes and calamities inflated as if for dramatic effect.

Pub Date: 7/20/99

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