Inside the Kennedy Auction

Senator Edward Kennedy told at least one publisher that he will address the Chappaquiddick incident in his forthcoming memoirs, according to a source who took a meeting with Mr. Kennedy about his book this fall and participated in the auction that ended last week.

“He said he’d talk about Chappaquiddick. What he’d say about it, he didn’t say. It was enough for him to say the words, you know what I mean?” the source explained.

Whether he would or wouldn’t address Chappaquiddick has been the subject of speculation since the senator’s book was sold to Jonathan Karp, publisher of the Hachette Book Group imprint Twelve, for more than $8 million. Lawyer Robert Barnett (see story above) conducted the sale, but declined to comment on the specific content of the book or on the process or terms of the deal.

Mr. Karp, for his part, says he’s not interested in Mr. Kennedy’s secrets—he just wants to publish a good book.

“What we want is a work of lasting value,” he said. “[Kennedy] is not interested in having a few front-page headlines for a week and then having the book sort of gently go off into the night. He really does view this as a work of history.”

For Mr. Karp, in other words, it is a matter of art and honor. For the rest of us, though, the prospect of a first-person Kennedy tell-all is alluring indeed—and the degree to which the senator will come clean about his turbulent past is a point of curiosity in light of how private the historic family has always been with regard to their personal affairs. Just recently, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, Jean Kennedy Smith—Mr. Kennedy’s sister—demanded that all material related to her be stricken from Journals: 1955-2000, a volume of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s diaries published earlier this year by Penguin Press.

The Kennedy auction source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was unclear whether Mr. Kennedy’s book would reveal anything previously unknown about that fateful night in 1969 when Mr. Kennedy drove his car over a bridge, in a mysterious accident that killed one of his brother’s campaign workers, Mary Jo Kopechne.

According to the source, who spoke with the senator at his home in Washington, D.C., Mr. Kennedy said he would discuss his mother and his brothers, as well as the plane crash that almost killed him in 1964.

“Is he going to talk about his drug addiction, his alcoholism? I don’t know,” the source said. “He did not mention that.”

The main objective of the meeting from the publisher’s perspective, the source went on, was to figure out how candid Mr. Kennedy planned to be in the book.

“He was in that elder statesman mode, kind of regaling you with stories that weren’t very well tethered to one another,” the source said. “All along the story here was … Is this a real book or is this just your reflections on your life? Is this going to be some P.R. release where you’re just going to show us the gauzy frame of the past, or are you really going to sit down there and reckon with things?”

Mr. Karp said he never explicitly asked Mr. Kennedy whether he planned to reveal any secrets before he decided that he wanted Twelve to publish the book. Mr. Karp suggested it would have been cynical to do so.

Other editors in town, however, said they never hesitate to ask prospective memoir writers directly what would and would not appear in their books.

Kathy Huck-Seymour, an editor at HarperCollins, said news value was definitely a factor when she was deciding whether to pursue former C.I.A. director George Tenet’s book, which was also shopped by Mr. Barnett and published earlier this year.

“You want to know what’s going to be new in the book, what’s going to be big. He’s writing a book, what is he going to say?” Ms. Huck-Seymour said. “Basically that’s what your advance is based on—what you think the person is going to deliver, how open they’re going to be, how revealing are they going to be, and how you think the audience is going to respond.”

Random House editor Susan Mercandetti, meanwhile, a former ABC news producer who pursued the Kennedy book at auction, said the same thing.

“I want to know what I’m going to get, I want to know what the person is going to say, so I tend to ask some pointed questions,” she said. “I’m a news person by training, so I guess I tend to do that.”

Ms. Mercandetti would not disclose what questions she asked Mr. Kennedy when she met with him before the auction, saying only that she has “no doubt that the senator will be candid.”

Inside the Kennedy Auction