Capturing the Kennedys

Chasing down two young
Kennedys. (Thomas Lang)

BOSTON — For the press, it was a photo op made in heaven: The entire Kennedy clan in the same place at the same time. As the Kennedys filed in, photographers from the Associated Press, the Sacramento Bee, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and others jockeyed for the best angle and the clearest shot. When directed by the Kennedys’ handlers to get behind a line of flower pots, they complied, boxing each other out to ensure those in the back stayed in the back. One photographer bellowed, “Watch the elbows.” This was a political press corps turned paparazzi.

The throng was assembled for the dedication of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. The Kennedys are not an easy bunch to round up, and it took some arm-twisting by Uncle Teddy — who called every Kennedy personally — to make it happen, according to Douglas Kennedy (son of Robert Kennedy and now a reporter for Fox News). He didn’t tell them it was mandatory, but he laid on the peer pressure. In that sense, this was a family reunion like most others — on the surface it was a group gathering, but in reality it was more of a group subpoena.

As the Kennedys took their seats, tense negotiations began over access to shots in between the front and the podium. At first Sen. Kennedy’s press secretary Jim Manley said no way. But the AP’s Steve Seene wouldn’t be shut out. He emerged as the leader of the pack offering Manley a compromise — let the photographers kneel in front of the first row for the first two minutes of the press conference, and then they’d remove themselves. “Deal,” Manley replied with a reluctant smile.

And so it went. The cameras flashed violently for the first 120 seconds and then ceased. The photographers came out from the trenches and gathered around a colleague who was displaying his take on his digital viewfinder. The pictures looked good; the only problem was that no Kennedy family genealogist was on hand to identify the wives and husbands and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which led to a game of Kennedy family “Jeopardy.”

After a few speeches, photographers lined up for the group exit. Negotiations again ensued; Manley offered a spot on the grass to the photographers, they countered, and a compromise was reached. Some tried to sneak around the barrier unnoticed for better shots, but, all in all, the photographers had calmed down and the exit photos went off without elbows being thrown. Altogether it “went quite well” said the Los Angeles Times’ photographer. The photographer from the Sacramento Bee added, “They let us do our job.” And they had the bruises to prove it.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.