Watchdog Blog

Barry Sussman: Ted Kennedy v. Roger Mudd, 1979-2010

Posted at 4:52 pm, February 20th, 2010
Barry Sussman Mug

A Jeopardy answer and question:

Answer: You’re not a good liberal if you ask hard questions about this late Senator.

Question: Who is Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion?

Roger Mudd as far as I know has never claimed to be a liberal, but if people ever thought of him that way – after all, he was a media big shot – he sure has failed the litmus test. Not once but twice.

In 1979, as Kennedy was embarking on a damaging, some might say vengeful, campaign challenge to Jimmy Carter, Mudd asked him, “Why do you want to be President?”, which set Kennedy off to some very extreme, almost unforgettable bumbling.

One person who didn’t forget was Kennedy, who, literally from the grave, took a very nasty shot at Mudd. In his posthumous memoir, True Compass, Kennedy said he had been doing a favor by acceding to an interview with Mudd “during a critical moment in his CBS News career.” Kennedy said Mudd set him up by falsely saying the subject of the interview was really to be Rose Kennedy, not Ted.

Kennedy’s account was noted by Russell Baker last November in the New York Review of Books. Mudd has now issued a stunning rebuke of Kennedy in the letters section of the March 11 issue of NYR.

“[F]or my part, Kennedy’s account of our 1979 CBS interview is a complete fabrication and I am at a loss to know why thirty years after the fact he would embrace such a fantasy, other than to try to explain away a politically embarrassing incident,” he wrote.

Mudd then relates Kennedy’s version at length, including, among other things, this tidbit:

Roger approached me and said…”I’m in this contest with Dan Rather for the anchor position at CBS News, and I’d love to get an interview with your mother.” (It was common knowledge that Mudd had been expected to replace Walter Cronkite when he hit the age of mandatory retirement at CBS, but Rather was giving him a serious run for his money.)

In his letter to NYR, Mudd noted that being critical of Kennedy at this stage “can be fraught.” Nevertheless he went on to defend himself by, pretty much, holding Kennedy’s account to be preposterous. He finishes by writing, “I remain mystified, perplexed, angered, and saddened that the senator would have endorsed such a false account in what amounted to his last testament.”

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