Bush and Blow
Before Fortunate Son was published in the fall of 1999, James Howard Hatfield spent a year researching and writing his biography on George W. Bush, which he titled "Lone Star Rising." Most political junkies knew that Bush and his father were plotting a return to power, and a massive money machine had been constructed in Texas for that purpose.
By 1998, Hatfield had been out of prison for four years and transformed his life. He'd fulfilled a childhood dream and become a published author, writing celebrity biographies and an encyclopedia on the X-Files. Now he wanted his agent to find a publishing house for the Bush book. St. Martin's Press signed a contract a few months later and told Hatfield the title would have to change. Eventually, they agreed on Fortunate Son, taken from a Creedence Clearwater Revival song.
By 1998, I'd spent a year living in Houston, attempting to investigate the Bush family. The Bush Presidential Library had just opened. I rented a cheap apartment and found a job writing for the alternative weekly The Public News.
I went to Houston hoping to uncover the truth behind President George H.W. Bush's last-minute pardon of Islam P. Adam, a Pakistani national who was caught smuggling $1.5 million worth of heroin. Why would President Bush pardon Adam on Jan. 18, 1993, two days before leaving office? The story received little press at the time. Unfortunately, the Bush Library did not have a copy of the pardon or any paperwork regarding Adam.
In Houston, there are contacts everywhere. The most fascinating source I met, Mr. Fly, had known the Bush family since 1962. Mr. Fly, a fighter pilot in World War II, was drafted into the Office of Strategic Services, and later became a CIA agent.
"The reason President Bush pardoned that heroin dealer was because he was dealing for the CIA. The drug cartels, the banks and these oil companies all back the Bush family. Look what happened in Texas since little Georgie took over. Any teenager in Texas can get all the hard drugs they want. They have this campaign in their back pocket. The real election is in the shadows of those sky-rise offices downtown."
Mr. Fly was referring to oil row, downtown Houston, were all the "big boys," Exxon, Mobil and Enron, the flashy new kid on the block, hold their board meetings. "You'll see, ain't nothing gonna stop them this time. These oil companies want to run everything. They're worse than the Nazis." The oil companies, Mr. Fly explained, rose to power on the toil and destruction of World Wars I and II, and with the help of the CIA, killed Kennedy and forced Johnson into Vietnam. What is so special about the Bush family? "It's the family network of power: Wall Street, the big banks and the CIA."
Mr. Fly met and socialized with George Herbert Walker Bush from 1962 until 1964. The reason corporate America backed Bush Sr. is because "he'll do whatever the big boys want. And so will his son."
"Infiltration is only one way to expose them," Mr. Fly informed me. "They'll only spill their guts if they trust you."
I thought about Mr. Fly's suggestion. After a few days of contemplation, I decided to give it a shot. I decided to pose as a Republican sympathizer. My father was active in the Republican Party since 1964, a Wall Street attorney and a financial backer of Reagan/Bush in 1980.
I called the office of former President Bush in Houston and requested an interview. His chief of staff, Michael Dannenhauer, called me back to give me the bad news.
"I'm sorry, President Bush will not be available for an interview," he told me.
"That's OK, to be honest I'm just floating until I find a better job. I moved to Texas because I thought it was so conservative, but the paper I got my job at might as well be the Village Voice," I replied." "They want me to find out why your boss pardoned some guy from Pakistan 48 hours before he left office. I'm sure it's all easily explained, but they see some scandal. Is there anyway you could look into it so I can get it off the table?"
"I'll see what I can do. Say, let's meet late next week for lunch?" said Dannenhauer.
Before the lunch, I smoked two joints, thinking it would make me appear relaxed, like I belonged on the inside. I walked into the parking lot of La Rochies, a Mexican café, and I saw Jimmy Alsobrook, a Public News photographer, waiting in his jeep. Dannenhauer drove up and parked his car. We shook hands and I opened the restaurant's front door ... slowly, so Jimmy could get a shot of us together.
I asked Dannenhauer if President Bush was bitter or held a grudge against Clinton for '92. We talked about a variety of issues, mostly about George W's impending bid for the White House. Dannenhauer gave me information not known to the public regarding W's use of intoxicating substances. Of course, the entire conversation was supposed to be kept "off the record."
The check came and Dannenhauer insisted on paying. As we walked out, he said I would be better off writing for a conservative magazine. He said he would make some calls "for any openings."
Dannenhauer, a loyal foot soldier for his boss, had betrayed George W. Bush. Why? The younger Bush revealed his arrogance to at least two reporters over the years. He verbally assaulted Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt and his wife in a Washington restaurant, and during the 2000 election he joked about executing Karla Faye Tucker to Talk's Tucker Carlson. Combine his ego with his job as "loyalty enforcer" for the Bush campaigns and you get pissed-off aides-like Dannenhauer.
By the spring of 1999, both Star Magazine and HIGH TIMES were considering the Dannenhauer story, but neither would run it, due to lack of a second source. The coke story was a buzz during the summer of 1999 and dogged George W. Bush wherever he went. "I'm not going to talk about it," he snapped at Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America. Even Jay Leno was getting into the act, showing Bush stepping out of a limo with coke pouring into the street and placing his face on a mock cover of HIGH TIMES.
Late in August, George W. Bush still refused to talk about drugs. He claimed he was not going to give in to what he called "the politics of personal destruction." In Virginia he explained rather cryptically that he could pass his father's White House requirement that all employees be drug-free for at least 15 years. "Could I pass the challenge of a background check? My answer is absolutely."
The Bush campaign began to feel the heat politically. They even went so far as to try to shut down gwbush.com, a parody Website of the candidate. When asked about censorship, Bush replied that there "ought to be limits to freedom" when it comes to criticizing him personally.
That September, the Greenwich Village Gazette, a Web magazine, decided to post the Dannenhauer story regardless of a second source. They posted it on the 13th and didn't identify Dannenhauer by name. But after a phone call from one of their attorneys about a possible lawsuit due to there not being a second source, they pulled the story within hours. Nick Mamatas, a Gazette columnist who worked with me for months on the story, resigned in protest. "The coke story was all over the news, but when a real name was attached, like Dannenhauer, it became untouchable," says Mamatas.
Five weeks after the Dannenhauer story broke and was killed, a bolt of lighting hit the campaign trail. St. Martin's Press had leaked to the media that their new biography of George W. Bush, Fortunate Son by J.H. Hatfield, claimed Bush had been busted in Houston for cocaine possession. Their press release stated that Fortunate Son was "scrupulously corroborated." Publisher Thomas Dunne told a reporter the book was "carefully fact checked and scrutinized by lawyers."
In Hatfield's afterword, according to an unnamed source, "George W. was arrested for cocaine possession in 1972, but due to his father's connections, the entire record was expunged by a state judge whom the elder Bush helped get elected. It was one of those 'behind closed doors in the judges chambers' kind of thing between the old man and one of his Texas cronies."
Another source, who Hatfield named the "Eufaula Connection" and described as a "high-ranking adviser to Bush," confirmed the story, and also warned Hatfield to "Watch your back every step of the way. Without sounding paranoid I think I would be amiss if I didn't remind you that George's old man once worked for the CIA. W. has raised almost $60 million in a matter of only a few months and his corporate sponsors and GOP fat cats aren't going to roll over and play dead."
St. Martin's cut a deal with the New York Times for an exclusive cover story on Sunday, Oct. 17, and a two-day exclusive Hatfield interview for the Today Show. The Times wanted to know more about the unnamed sources. Hatfield refused to reveal their names and the story never appeared. Then the Today Show cancelled too.
St. Martins had printed 104,000 copies of Fortunate Son and shipped 89,000. News agencies were telling them "off the record" that the Bush campaign "was putting pressure on the media," and threatening to lock reporters who covered Fortunate Son out of the White House once Bush got in.
On Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 19, Hatfield took a call from Dallas Morning News reporter Pete Slover. Slover asked him about a 1987 failed car bombing, and a James Howard Hatfield who was sentenced to 15 years in the Texas prison system. Hatfield lied, "It's not me." After the conversation, Hatfield later recalled: "I had an uneasy feeling that efforts to get publicity for the book were going to succeed, but not as anyone at St. Martin's would have imagined."
Later in the afternoon, Thomas Dunne, who had spoken to Slover, called Hatfield into his office and shut the door. "I just got the strangest call. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, but I have to ask you." Hatfield again denied he was a felon." "By God," Dunne lamented, "Let's get this Slover bastard on the phone." Hatfield again denied his felony record to Slover.
That same afternoon, a Greenwich Village Gazette staffer called Michael Dannenhauer in Houston to ask about the comments he made regarding Bush's coke use. At first Dannenhauer denied ever meeting me. Then he said we met "years ago" before 1998 and before he was the elder Bush's chief of staff.
The next day, Hatfield saw the writing on the wall and flew home to Arkansas a day early to be with his wife and baby, who was born 12 days earlier. The next day, the Dallas Morning News splashed in bold headlines "AUTHOR ALLEGING BUSH DRUG ARREST REPORTEDLY A FELON." Now the media blackout was lifted, and the story about Hatfield and his felony conviction made global headlines. The Village Voice's Nat Hentoff, known as a militant anticensorship advocate, got whipped up by the corporate media mob and called for the burning of the book. But some media refused to join the mob. Time described the media as "vultures ... swooping down on the story. The cocaine allegations were relegated ... [while] new revelations about Hatfield allow the general media to pounce on the more sordid aspects of Fortunate Son."
Fortunate Son had a lot more that just a coke bust in it's final chapter. There was much more to the book than the media was letting on. Although Hatfield had written a upbeat, mainstream biography, it was scathing of W's shady business deals. It exposed James Bath, W's partner in Arbusto (Bush in Spanish) who also worked with the CIA, BCCI, and terrorist Osama bin Landin's family in Saudi Arabia. Hatfield also wrote about how W acquired the Texas Rangers, with other investors money who wanted access to his father's White House. There was also information about the SEC's investigation into W's selling of middle east oil stocks days before Saddam Hussian invaded Kuwait. Hatfield also uncovered more evidence of the Bush's family's anti-Semitism, when Bush Sr. broke off W's engagement to Cathryn Lee Wolfman, who's stepfather was half Jewish.
The explosion of media attention shot Fortunate Son up the best-seller lists, to #30 on the New York Times hardcover list and #8 on Amazon's "Top 100" list. But St. Martin's believed their credibility was on the line, and yanked Fortunate Son from the bookstores. Their legal staff claimed they had a "moral and legal obligation to make the book unavailable. The book should be pulled." To make matters worse, St. Martin's inflamed the censorship issue by stating the book was "furnace fodder." Even conservative columnist William O'Rourke was nauseated by their compliance with the Bush family's wishes, and wrote in the Chicago Sun Times, "since when are publishers on the side of book burners?"
New York Newsday was also disturbed. The media clubbing of Hatfield was "constitutionally upsetting." They questioned the idea that "allegations by an ex-convict are cause for withdrawing a book." The New York Times agreed. "People might not mind a former convict writing a book. The American dream expressed in both politics and literature is the dream of rebirth and redemption."
The one question the press did not ask, of course, was whether Bush had ever been arrested in the '70s under any pretext of intoxication?
On Oct. 21, Hatfield addressed the media circus swelling across his front lawn with "no comment," and dashed his wife and baby off to a friend's cabin. He sat in the cabin and reflected on his shattered career. He'd innocently assumed the truths in Fortunate Son would overshadow the fallout from his past.
But Hatfield had underestimated the power of the Bush family, the corporate press and the "big boys" in Texas, who were not about to let a felon-turned-author derail their chosen candidate with a coke-arrest allegation. Not only was Fortunate Son banned and burned, the press cut off all debate about Bush's coke use. There was however, one glitch the Bush family did not anticipate.
Soft Skull Press
Sander Hicks, publisher of Soft Skull Press in New York, read about the crash and burn of Fortunate Son in the New York Times on Saturday, Oct. 23. He was horrified and decided to republish Fortunate Son. "I thought if we could get this book back into print, the media would be on our side, because we were standing up against censorship," says Hicks.
Hicks began negotiating with Hatfield's agent, Richard Kurtus. Once Fortunate Son had a new publisher, Hatfield began plotting his comeback. He fought back in a press statement released to the Drudge Report. "Why does he continue to refuse to answer allegations about his past drug use? Rather than me, what is George W. Bush hiding in his past?"
Hicks, editor Nick Mamatas and I met in a rundown Ukrainian bar near the Hudson River. We talked about the absurdity of book censorship and the countless number of fraudulent Bill Clinton books published without scrutiny. "Toby," Hicks said, "I want you to write a new introduction to Fortunate Son. I want to you to write about Dannenhauer and what you know about the Bush family."
Meanwhile, on Thanksgiving, Hatfield told Hicks that one of his unnamed sources had found out Fortunate Son was going to be released again, and had told Hatfield he and his family were in serious danger.
In January 2000, Fortunate Son was released in paperback. The new edition included the controversial afterword, as well as the Dannenhauer story. The Sunday Times of London broke the Dannenhauer story, and a few days later, former President Bush removed the aide from his inner circle. For a brief moment, it felt as though the tide was turning.
Soft Skull agreed to give 60 Minutes an exclusive interview with Hatfield. Producer Jay Kernis promised the show would be fair. Hatfield told me later he'd been humiliated by the Texas Monthly's Christmas edition, which contained vicious attacks against him. Titled "BioHazard-Exposing the Disgraced Author of a Discredited Book on George W. Bush," it portrayed Hatfield almost as an evil force that needed to be destroyed.
Meanwhile, when 60 Minutes aired, Fortunate Son's new publisher was portrayed as being staffed by drugged-out minorities wearing hockey masks and listening to hip-hop. Hatfield told me the next morning he felt like a "whore in sailor town." He said he was going to "wind up in a ditch" if he continued to stay involved in politics.
Dallas Morning News reporter Pete Slover was also featured on 60 Minutes. I called Slover to ask how he'd discovered Hatfield's felony conviction. He said most of it was on publicdata.com. "But how did you get the mug shot?" I asked. He got defensive and refused to say.
Hatfield came to New York City to publicize Fortunate Son soon after the 60 Minutes show aired. He came looking for a fight. He was tired of being a media punching bag and wanted to swing back. He stood by his story about Bush's coke arrest.
When I met him for the first time, I saw the negative publicity was taking a toll. I told him if he could survive the Texas prison system, this would be easy. "I'm not so sure," he said. "But I'm not going to give up yet." But he added, "I'm a marked man." That afternoon, he gave Hicks the names of the three unnamed sources in the afterword. The next day Hatfield and Hicks were interviewed on Court TV. Hatfield talked about the death threats, Bush's coke bust and Dannenhauer.
Only weeks after Soft Skull Press republished Fortunate Son, the company and some major book-selling chains were slapped with a lawsuit. An employee at Powell's Books in Portland, OR told Soft Skull that stacks of the book were being stolen. Soft Skull's distributor, fearing they too would get sucked into the suit, squashed Fortunate Son's distribution. Once again, the book was suppressed, but this time without the publisher's approval or any media coverage. The lawsuit would eventually be settled, of course ... after the election.
Less then seven days before the election, a Fox News affiliate in Maine reported that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving in 1976 and pled guilty a month later in court. At a press conference Bush admitted his arrest, but could not get the story straight.
Reporter: "Governor, was there any legal proceeding of any kind? Or did you just ..."
Bush: "No. I pled, you know, I said I was wrong and I ..."
Reporter: "In court?"
Bush: "No, there was no court. I went to the police station. I said, 'I'm wrong.'"
The ticket clearly had a court date, and a source claimed to have seen Bush in court.
According to a study by the Brookings Institute, media coverage during the election was overwhelmingly pro-Bush. One story the press got right early on was the description of the Bush campaign as a "juggernaut."
Dawn of the Dead
In the summer of 2001, Soft Skull Press published a third printing of Fortunate Son, and released the names of the alleged anonymous sources: Karl Rove-Bush's top political adviser-and Clay Johnson-also a member of W's current White House staff.
Karl Rove, who some say is the Bush family's "brain" has been in the inner circle since 1973 when he was cleared by Bush Sr. (then RNC chairman) of accusations of dirty tricks. Rove has been called by the Washington Post as a "whirling dervish" of over the top smear campaign tactics. It was Karl Rove who discovered Lee Atwater, the most notorious bad boy in the Bush league, who ripped Gary Hart's and Michael Dukakis campaign to shreds in 1988, with bimbo blondes and racist campaign commercials that forever changed the nation's political culture. Rove, who has a long history planting false stories to create political waves designed to benefit his candidate, was also apparently the unnamed source for a false leak about a photo of W dancing naked on top of a bar. Rove planted the false story in the Drudge report to raise the media's scandal bar. When the photo never surfaced the press ignored W's alcoholic past for the rest of the 2000 campaign.
Hatfield went to a Chicago book fair June 2. In his last interview, he reiterated his life was in danger. "They're gonna discredit me ... or silence me the best way they can... I'm in a very vulnerable position ... I've got two years left on parole ... they could say 'we searched your house back in Arkansas and we found weed.' And that's all it takes."
All it took was the Bentonville, Arkansas police to chase Hatfield off his property for allegedly obtaining illegal credit cards, and he was found dead in a motel the next day. On July 18, 2001, a Days Inn Motel maid in Springdale, Arkansas, unlocked a room on the third floor and found a dead body lying in bed. James Howard Hatfield had, according to police, overdosed on two prescription drugs and a bottle of vodka.
In a statement issued July 23, Sander Hicks said that Hatfield "was on the verge of collapse due to financial difficulties," in part due to the commercial failure of Fortunate Son. The publisher also blamed the American media for focusing on Hatfield's checkered past instead of following up his "piercing inquiries" into Bush's drug history.
"Jim Hatfield's death, in part, on the hands of an imperious American media establishment that reserves the softest touch money can buy for George W. Bush and all sons of privilege," Hicks concluded. "Jim Hatfield, a working-class journalist unanointed by the media elite, was viciously made into an example."
The Springdale police, along with the press, ruled Hatfield's death a suicide, but many believe otherwise, including Mr. Fly. "There is no question he was murdered. I don't care what the police say, the goddamn police are owned," said Mr. Fly. "You get close to, and turn up something bad on Karl Rove, that will get you killed right there."
What happened to Hatfield and Fortunate Son will go down in history as another chapter in the quest for power by the most powerful family in America. It started in August 1999, when Clay Johnson falsely told Hatfield about Bush's cocaine arrest and Karl Rove confirmed it. They knew Hatfield was a felon, and wanted to muddy the waters around Bush's cocaine use. When Fortunate Son was released, the Bush team blew Hatfield, as well as the cocaine charges, out of the water. It was a brilliantly executed campaign, and the people who orchestrated it are firmly back in power.
This article originally appeared in High Times Magazine.