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Copyright 2000 Burrelle's Information Services  
Posted here under provisions of fair use.

CBS News Transcripts


February 13, 2000, Sunday

TYPE: Profile

LENGTH: 2512 words





LESLEY STAHL, co-host:

How did a biography of George W. Bush, containing the explosive charge that not only had he been arrested for cocaine possession, but that his father had pulled strings with a Republican judge to get him off--how did that book, entitled, "Fortunate Son," get published? How did a respectable publishing house like Saint Martin's Press go ahead with the book, when the author couldn't offer proof that the charge was true?

(Footage of Hatfield; Stahl and Hatfield)

STAHL: (Voiceover) When the author, J.H. Hatfield, first proposed his book to Saint Martin's Press, he billed himself as a Texas journalist with enough good old boy connections to get the inside story on George W. It was late in the writing process when he came up with the story about the cocaine arrest and the cover-up. He says he got the information from three confidential sources close to Bush.

Mr. J.H. HATFIELD (Author, "Fortunate Son"): One is a close friend, one is a college roommate, and one I really don't want to...

STAHL: All three are hearsay cases. Not one was a witness to anything. You don't even get close to a direct witness.

Mr. HATFIELD: But why are all three telling the same story, essentially?

(Footage of Hatfield; Slover)

STAHL: (Voiceover) If an author uses anonymous sources, he's asking his readers to rely on his credibility, his reputation for truthfulness. Since Hatfield was an unknown, reporters scrambled to verify his charge that Texas Governor George W. Bush had used cocaine as a young man. Pete Slover of The Dallas Morning News was one of the reporters who looked into it.

Mr. PETE SLOVER (The Dallas Morning News): We've been alert to this issue and this area. We'd looked at some of the same ground where he said he found these drug charges, and had not found anything.

(Footage of "Fortunate Son" cover; George W. Bush)

STAHL: (Voiceover) If the charges in the book were true, Slover says, there would have been some paper trail of an arrest. There wasn't. And not one reporter was able to confirm the allegations. While Mr. Bush has declined to answer questions about drug use before 1974, he did say the story about the cocaine arrest was totally ridiculous and not true. And many of the people Hatfield claims he interviewed for the book denied they ever spoke to him. The whole story seemed fishy. There were no dates, no policemen's names, no Republican judge's name.

Former President GEORGE BUSH: Oh, yes, he had three sources. Who are they? Couldn't say. Who was this judge that supposedly was bribed by me? Well, he couldn't say. It was a Republican judge.

(Footage of Texas capitol building; Slover)

STAHL: (Voiceover) In fact, there were no Republican judges in Texas back then. All this got Pete Slover to thinking, 'Just who was this J.H. Hatfield?'

Mr. SLOVER: I came across an intriguing record. I found that there was a James H. Hatfield who had had a conviction in Dallas.

(Footage of Slover and Stahl)

STAHL: (Voiceover) A conviction involving a serious crime. But he had to determine if the James Hatfield with the record was the same James Hatfield who had written the book. So he called the author.

Mr. SLOVER: And I said, 'Well, could you tell me, please, your date of birth or some part of your Social Security num--number or something that would distinguish you from this person who's accused of this crime?' And he refused.

Mr. HATFIELD: I--I played stupid, and I did deny it. And...

STAHL: Vehemently.

Mr. HATFIELD: Vehemently, yes, very much so.

STAHL: So you lied to him.


STAHL: What exactly were you convicted of?

Mr. HATFIELD: Solicitation of capital murder.

STAHL: You paid someone to murder someone.

Mr. HATFIELD: Well, it's a very complicated story.

(Vintage footage of crime site)

STAHL: (Voiceover) Complicated all right. It involved the attempted car bombing of a female co-worker in 1987. The bomb went off, but the intended victim walked away unharmed.

You hired a man named Charles Crawford, paid him $ 5,000...

Mr. HATFIELD: Right.

STAHL: have her killed.



Mr. HATFIELD: I'm not proud of it. Not proud of it at all.

STAHL: Here's--here's an irony. You've been saying that George Bush, according to you, committed a crime.


STAHL: He should own up to it.

Mr. HATFIELD: Right.

STAHL: So here you are, a guy who committed a crime, and isn't owning up to it. You were running away from it.

Mr. HATFIELD: But I'm here today, and that's what we're...

STAHL: Yeah, you're here today because you got caught.

Mr. HATFIELD: Well, don't you think some things in the past should stay in the past? I mean, I served my time.

(Police photos of Hatfield)

STAHL: (Voiceover) Hatfield served five years of a 15-year sentence, but that wasn't his first run-in with the law.

As a teen-ager you were arrested for writing bad checks.

Mr. HATFIELD: That's not true.

STAHL: Not true?

Mr. HATFIELD: What is the definition of teen-ager?

STAHL: Oh, so were you arrested as a young man?

Mr. HATFIELD: Yes, I was.

STAHL: How old were you?

Mr. HATFIELD: Probably 19.

STAHL: In 1978, you were convicted of burglary and served seven months of a five-year sentence.

Mr. HATFIELD: That's correct.

STAHL: You worked for a company that managed a large HUD-subsidized apartment complex in Dallas, and you embezzled funds for personal use.


STAHL: And you also took payoffs from the construction company.


STAHL: What I'm looking at is a pattern that starts when you were 19.

Mr. HATFIELD: I think I did a--a good job at the company, even though, yes, I had sticky fingers.

STAHL: Somebody could look at this record and--and say, 'Well, he's a con man.'

Mr. HATFIELD: But you can also look at the last five or six years. St. Martin's was happy with me.

(Photo of Dunne; footage of "Goebbels" cover; photo of Dunne; footage of Fitzgerald)

STAHL: (Voiceover) That's because Saint Martin's editor Thomas Dunne, under whose imprint "Fortunate Son" was published, knew nothing of his felonious past. This is not the first time Dunne had to pull a book because he didn't know about an author's background. Just four years ago Dunne was forced to cancel a biography of Hitler's propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, because he didn't know the author was one of those who denied the Holocaust had ever happened. Thomas Dunne would not speak to us on camera. Jim Fitzgerald, a literary agent who worked at Saint Martin's as an editor for 10 years, did.

How is it possible that a big publishing house like Saint Martin's and the Thomas Dunne imprint published this book and didn't know the background of its author, didn't know he'd been in jail?

Mr. JIM FITZGERALD: Well, I think it probably was they never asked. They never asked.

(Footage of Fitzgerald and Stahl)

STAHL: (Voiceover) And, Fitzgerald says, that's not unusual.

Mr. FITZGERALD: There's not a dictate by any house to check the backgrounds of authors.

Mr. DAVID ROSENTHAL (Simon & Schuster): If your author really spent some time in the penitentiary, how could you, kind of, not know that?

(Footage of Rosenthal)

STAHL: David Rosenthal, publisher of Simon & Schuster, says he checks the backgrounds of his authors.

Mr. ROSENTHAL: You want to know where they've been working for the last few years. You want to know their bona fides. You want to know that, basically, on weekends they haven't been working as an ax murderer or something. You've got to know a lot.

STAHL: You go through that?

Mr. ROSENTHAL: Oh, absolutely.

Mr. FITZGERALD: I don't know what that has to do with it, to tell you the truth, the background of the author. I mean, there are other authors--I'd work with authors that had been in prison. I'd worked with authors that had done all sorts of things. What's before me is what I work with, not what his past is.

(Footage of Hatfield; book covers)

STAHL: (Voiceover) All Saint Martin's knew about James Hatfield was that he had written trivia books and biographies on actors Ewan McGregor and Patrick Stewart, cut-and-paste jobs culled mainly from movie magazines.

Mr. ROSENTHAL: This is a biography of a guy who is running for president in a serious way. You don't give a writer, who has basically just done a Patrick Stewart biography, George Bush.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Yes and no. Depends on the price. They didn't exactly break the bank when they bought this book. This book was bought for a small amount of money, and they were going to capitalize, I believe, on just the phenomena.

(Footage of several books)

STAHL: (Voiceover) Saint Martin's has a reputation for aggressively jumping on sensational stories. They're the ones that published Monica Lewinsky's biography. They're willing to be controversial.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Years ago there was a book on Teddy Kennedy that Putnam's was to have published, and Putnam's got skittish about some of the information about Chappaquiddick and they dumped the book.


Mr. FITZGERALD: And Saint Martin's picked the book up.

STAHL: And published it?

Mr. FITZGERALD: And published it. The facts were the same facts that were in the Putnam's book. Now how do we explain that?

STAHL: Were they true?

Mr. FITZGERALD: Who knows?

STAHL: But this case was different because when Saint Martin's finally learned about Hatfield's past and asked him about it, he lied, flatly denying he had a criminal record. They then took the unusual and expensive step of recalling "Fortunate Son" and asking stores to return unsold copies, calling the book 'furnace fodder.'

Mr. HATFIELD: They pulled the book because I have a criminal background, and that doesn't have anything to do with the price of eggs in China.

STAHL: You lied to them. That's not the same as just having a criminal record. They asked you about it, and you denied it.

Mr. HATFIELD: Yes, after it came out.

STAHL: So why isn't that why they pull the book? You lied to them, and they felt they couldn't believe you.

Mr. HATFIELD: Well, that's their definition of it. They said, 'It destroyed his credibility,' and that's my argument. It doesn't have anything to do with my credibility.

STAHL: Your--your lying to them doesn't have anything to do with credibility?

Mr. HATFIELD: They never asked me before the book came out.

(Footage of Hatfield)

STAHL: (Voiceover) Hatfield says his credibility should not have been an issue once Saint Martin's lawyers, who combed through his manuscript, including the chapter with the cocaine charges, gave it the go-ahead.

Mr. HATFIELD: Well, it was vetted in-house and outside by one of the best law firms in Washington, DC.

STAHL: What is vetted? What does that mean?

Mr. ROSENTHAL: It means somebody, a lawyer assumedly, has read the book and has essentially made sure that the book will not get you sued. Being--having a book vetted does not necessarily mean that the book is accurate. Whether it's true or not, that's really the editor and the author's problem.

STAHL: Who does fact-checking then?

Mr. ROSENTHAL: Fact-checking should be done by the author.

(Footage of "Fortunate Son" cover; press release)

STAHL: (Voiceover) While Saint Martin's never claimed the book was fact-checked, they did put out a press release saying it was 'scrupulously corroborated and sourced.'

What kind of proof did they ask for to confirm, verify the cocaine charges in the book?

Mr. HATFIELD: Nothing actually. We discussed who they were, not their identities. Th--even the lawyer didn't ask me who they were, and I started to--to offer it to her because I knew we would have attorney-client confidentiality. She said, 'I don't want to know.'

STAHL: Would you have told her?

Mr. HATFIELD: I would have told her.

STAHL: But she never asked.

Mr. HATFIELD: But she never asked.

STAHL: You know, if I came in with a story to my bosses at 60 MINUTES with anonymous sources, they'd want to know who the sources were; we'd have to triple-check, quadruple-check.

Mr. FITZGERALD: There's a difference between journalism and publishing. There is a big difference. I think that journalism is far more fact-check driven.

STAHL: The publisher is--is depending on the author, but if you don't trust the author anymore, if you think he's a liar...

Mr. FITZGERALD: There's problems. There's problems, and that's what resulted here.

(Footage of Hatfield; "Fortunate Son" cover published by Soft Skull Press; book party)

STAHL: (Voiceover) Hatfield was devastated at losing his publisher, but within days he had a new one, an outfit called Soft Skull Press. They introduced their new edition of "Fortunate Son" at a book party.

Mr. SANDER HICKS (Publisher, Soft Skull Press): We are printing 45,000...

Unidentified Man: Whoo!

Mr. HICKS: ...and we will not be silent in the face of injustice.

(Footage of Hicks)

STAHL: (Voiceover) Soft Skull publisher Sander Hicks, who started his business at a copying machine at Kinko's, contacted Hatfield's agent.

Mr. HICKS: I was like, 'Um, you know, you don't know me, sir, but maybe you've read about the--the punks of publishing?' And instead of saying, 'Who are you, kid?' he said, 'That's good. I'm looking for a punk.'

STAHL: Did you have it vetted? Did you have your own lawyers vet the book?

Mr. HICKS: We didn't have our own lawyers actually vet the book, mainly because Saint Martin's lawyers gave the book a full vetting, both in Washington, DC, and in New York, and they both said, 'We had no problems with this book.'

(Footage of Hicks and Stahl; Fitzgerald)

STAHL: (Voiceover) Hicks first heard that he could buy the rights to the book from none other than Jim Fitzgerald. In fact, Fitzgerald went so far as to help Hicks publish the book as an unpaid consultant.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Well, it had been through legal. It was fine. It was fine as far as that was concerned. The cocaine charge...

STAHL: It had been through legal. That's always the bottom line. It had been through legal. You, personally, knowing now what you know...


STAHL: ...'it had been through legal' is enough?

Mr. FITZGERALD: If it's been through legal and I'm hired by a house that has a legal department that says, 'That's enough,' that's enough.

(Footage of "Fortunate Son" cover published by Soft Skull Press; Hatfield and Stahl)

STAHL: (Voiceover) And it was enough for the new publisher who, without any further checking, put all the old charges in the new book. Hatfield says he stands by what he wrote, and incredible as it seems, can't understand why he's not more in demand.

Mr. HATFIELD: I've lost two contracts recently because of all this. I guess you could say I'm blacklisted. I'm just kind of dead meat.

(Footage of Hatfield)

STAHL: (Voiceover) Well, not exactly. Tomorrow he starts a book tour.


LOAD-DATE: February 15, 2000


Copyright © 2002 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.












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