Joe Biden, Kitty Kelley, and a Letter That Asked for—and Got— Two Corrections to the “Death and the All-American Boy” Story

By Jack Limpert

I got an email comment this week from Katharine Krauss about the current interest in Kitty Kelley’s Joe Biden article in the June 1974 Washingtonian. Titled “Death and the All-American Boy,” the article has received wider circulation since the 2020 election and Krauss says, “Seems pretty irresponsible to report that article without the correction.”

After the story was published, I got this letter from Wes Barthelmes, then the administrative assistant to Senator Biden, and we published it in the September 1974 issue:

“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 Neilia, 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-semetic 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.”

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