Unearthing a Kitty Kelley Story on Joe Biden—Plus a Letter and Reply

In “What We’re Reading,” sent out weekly by the New York Times, Carolyn Ryan, senior editor for politics, recommends a June 1974 Washingtonian story, “Death and the All-American Boy,” by Kitty Kelley. Ryan wrote: “The story setting off buzz in political circles right now is not a recent scooplet or Trump-driven feud. It is a newly unearthed 1974 profile of Joe Biden. The story is startlingly (and almost too) candid about Mr. Biden’s personal life after losing his wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972. The piece captures the essence of Biden—emotional, authentic, endlessly talkative—but is also infused with a 1970s ethos and atmospherics that make it an artifact of an earlier journalistic era. The writer is Kitty Kelley and she repeatedly draws similarities between Biden and Jack Kennedy: Irish Catholics whose careers started early, who campaigned with glamour and exuded sexiness, and who were struck by tragedy.”

The Biden story was featured in this month’s 50th anniversary issue of the Washingtonian as the most memorable story from the magazine’s first ten years—1965 to 1975.

A postscript: After the story was published, the magazine got a letter from Wes Berthelmes, administrative assistant to Senator Biden:

“The Washingtonian magazine is not large enough to accommodate a rebuttal to an article purporting to describe the activities and opinions of Senator Joe Biden of Delaware that was published in your June issue under the tasteless title, ‘Death and the All-American Boy.’

“However, I wish to record two factual errors. The first is that Senator Biden does not have on a wall in his Washington office (or anywhere else) a photograph of the tomb of his wife Neila, killed with their infant daughter in an automobile accident shortly after his election in 1972. Second, the article includes an incorrect and untrue sentence: ‘Biden tells him [Senator Eagleton] a joke with an anti-semitic punchline and asks that it be off the record.’ As Senator Eagleton commented after the article appeared, Senator Biden did not make such a ‘joke.’”

The Kitty Kelley reply:

“There is a large photograph of a tombstone hanging on the wall outside Senator Biden’s private office. The tombstone bears the following inscription: ‘In fond remembrance of her gentleness and purity/of her devotion as a wife and mother/and in humble gratitude for the assurance/that she is in heaven.’ I assumed the tombstone was Neilia Biden’s. I apologize for the error.

“With reference to the anti-semitic punchline, Senator Biden related an anecdote to Senator Eagleton about a county in Delaware where Senator Biden said it’s not good to be Irish-Catholic, which Senator Eagleton is, but even worse to be a Jew. Senator Biden told about being at a dinner in the county and he quoted a man telling him, ‘You’re all right, but we’ve got to get rid of that dirty Jew Roth.’ Senator Biden then told Senator Eagleton, ‘And [Senator William v.] Roth isn’t even Jewish.’ I agree that anti-semitic is too strong a description, and again I apologize.”

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for linking to the 1974 Washingtonian profile of V.P. Biden. My awareness of him began only at Iran-Contra and later when he over-channelled British Labor Party Leader Neil Kinnock. I enjoyed Kelly’s piece and her subsequent “corrections.”

  2. Katharine Krauss says

    Seems pretty irresponsible to re-print this article given the corrections at the bottom. Which people are unlikely to read until.

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