Rove tricked the media into trashing the messenger
while ignoring the message
by Sander Hicks Publisher, Soft Skull Press May 23, 2001
"They're heat! Furnace fodder!" snapped the vitriolic St. Martin's Vice President Sally J. Richardson to the New York Times on October, 23, 1999.
I was doing maintenance work on my two buildings in New York's Lower East Side that Saturday morning; drinking black coffee. I was reading the entire national section of the Times to keep from having to start mopping. This story on the bottom of page A12 caught my eye: "Citing Distrust of Author, Publisher Kills Book on Bush." At first I laughed, imagining the problems we publishers have with our prickly and precious authors. As the head of a scrappy, fierce independent press, I had had authors thrown out of their own readings at Barnes & Noble for showing up with urine samples and drugs. I had had writers shout in my face, "Look, Sander, I am a genuis!" when working with me as an editor. How bad could St. Martin's writer be?
I read on. Reporter Doreen Carvajal was level-headed about the salacious details: "The book's author, J.H. Hatfield, matched police photographs of a felon convicted of hiring a hit man 11 years ago in an unsuccessful car bombing of his boss. . . ."
That was a new one.
"Mr. Hatfield's book included claims from anonymous sources that Mr. Bush . . . was arrested in 1972 on cocaine possession charges that were later expunged by a judge as a favor to Mr. Bush's father." She then pointed out that although St. Martin's did not recant or question any of the material in the book, their chief counsel said they no longer viewed the author as credible.
That week, I borrowed one of the rare, repossessed copies of the book from a friend and read it on a bus trip to Washington, DC. As I traveled to see my family, I used a pack of sticky notes to hit every page where I found something relevant, newsworthy and under-reported about Bush's past. Pretty soon, the book overflowed with the edges of sticky notes poking out like the feathers of a peacock. Bush dodged the draft, was a C student at Yale, lost a lot of other people's money in boom times in the Texas Oil market, was investigated by the SEC for insider trading. What a garish life of special favors, what a clear colorful pattern of cut corners, what blurry values. This book was well-sourced, consistent and professionally written. I came back to New York and maneuvered my company, Soft Skull Press, Inc., to step in and acquire the rights to the book.
Meanwhile, Hatfield was in hiding. The tabloids were after him. Camera crews camped on his front lawn for two weeks. The phone rang off the hook. They all wanted to know who the confidential sources were who fed him the story, but Hatfield stuck to his journalistic code. He had sworn to the sources they would be talking to him under condition of anonymity.
Two months after the bloody October of Hatfield's public destruction, the media kept up steady fire. With no sources revealed, the focus of feature coverage in print and on television shifted fast from reporting on Hatfield's Bush story to loud, loose talk about Hatfield's crime. The major media tended to sing the same chorus: "How ironic, this Hatfield who was involved in a dirty plot to kill his boss in 1987 is trying to verify these rumors about young Bush being arrested for cocaine possession in 1972. But this story couldn't be true, of course, since Hatfield's a criminal . . . right?"
I begged J.H. Hatfield to come back to New York, to set the record straight in a taping of an episode for 60 Minutes. It was a crisp, sunny winter day in New York City. Although Hatfield had the flu, he taped his portion of the program early in the morning, and I went in later. After the taping, we walked through the Lower East Side. I had taken Hatfield and his lawyer to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I needed to hold him to his promise to share the sources with me; I needed to see the phone and travel records. I needed to know the whole thing wasn't a big sick joke. I needed to be 100 percent sure. Part of me already believed in Jim Hatfield, because he had incredible heart, and hope. He believed in what we were doing. He stood behind all his research. We were both mavericks, just trying to do the right thing and not get killed.
His lawyer and my co-worker at Soft Skull went back to our basement office. Hatfield stopped on the corner of Ludlow and Rivington and turned to me in the bright light. His hands were stuffed deep into the pockets of his Navy peacoat. He looked tired, but determined. He looked down the street.
"You've got to take this information with you to your grave. You've got to swear."
I swore not to repeat it to anyone.
But I also knew that the truth is bigger than one person. We would both choose to reveal the sources publicly when the time was right, when we had no other choice. When we no longer had anything left to lose.
"The Eufaula Connection? That was Karl T. Rove. The other top Bush advisor was Clay Johnson. The Bush confidante source, was his minister, Mayfield. Now you know. Remember, you've got to swear now. . . ."
J.H. Hatfield had just identified Karl T. Rove, the Bush campaign's senior advisor to me personally as the primary source for the G.W. Bush cocaine arrest story. It took me that whole year to understand why Rove would do such a thing.
How Rove Made Hatfield the Target to Take the Heat Off Bush
When the media stumbled upon the story that George W. Bush was arrested for cocaine possession in 1972, it was through an anonymous tip reported by a columnist at Salon.com ("Bush Up To His Arse In Allegations! Sharp-Toothed E-Mail, Killer Bees and Bags of Worms. Will This Hound Hunt?" by Amy Reiter.) Hatfield's book was in final proofing stages when this hot story broke on August 25, 1999. The piece was the first to state that Bush had been arrested in the early '70s, and that he "was ordered by a Texas judge to perform community service in exchange for expunging his record showing illicit drug use," according to the source. To make matters worse that August, Bush went out on his own on the campaign trail and improvised on camera about his drug past. With his handlers out of town ghost-writing his 'autobiography,' he blurted out at a press conference that he hadn't done drugs since 1974. The media crowed at the spectacle. For instance, USA Today gushed, "Bush ha! s admitted something, but he refuses to say what."
Hatfield, who long suspected something was awry in young Bush's playboy days, went back to his Texas sources to corroborate this story through Clay Johnson and Karl Rove, his regular sources of information. According to Hatfield, Rove and Johnson explained the cocaine arrest on the phone, under condition of anonymity. Rove had earlier taken Hatfield on a fishing trip to Lake Eufaula, OK, to discuss Bush, so his pseudonym in the Afterword became the cloak-and-daggeresque "The Eufaula Connection."
Why choose Jim Hatfield? Hatfield had committed his 1987 crime in Dallas, where longtime Bush schoolmate and friend Clay Johnson was an associate. Johnson was friends with Hatfield's employers Larry Burke and Kay Burrow. He would have heard about the violent workplace conspiracy that stemmed from an illicit affair Burke was having with Burrow. Burrow had tried to blackmail Burke, and Hatfield took the fall for the attempt he arranged on Burrow's life at his boss Burke's request.
Rove and Johnson further ensured they could discredit Hatfield by feeding him flawed information. They altered key facts in the cocaine arrest story, and thus raised the burden of proof for future reporters. At one point, Hatfield was told that the arresting judge was a Republican, a falsehood which, although easily detected, served to damage Hatfield's credibility. After St. Martin's rushed the cocaine arrest story into the book as an Afterword, suddenly The Dallas Morning News received the private, criminal record of J.H. Hatfield's felony in Texas. The News published an article about Hatfield's felonious past and it was all over for the Bush cocaine arrest story.
This style of disinformation follows the pattern set by all masters of public opinion of the 20th Century. Karl T. Rove is an avid history buff, and applies what he reads. In just two short months he surgically removed the media's talk of the Bush drug arrest by feeding it to a biographer he knew had a felony conviction in his past. Hatfield broke the story, and then Rove broke Hatfield. The Bush Campaign's friends at the Dallas Morning News broke a salacious, mesmerizing story about a car-bomb, a hit man, a boss, a felony conviction, and the mass media's attention is focused en masse on Hatfield, who can't take the heat, denies the allegations and flees town. St. Martin's doesn't know what's going on, but suddenly they are getting threatened by Bush campaign lawyers who are "looking into" suing them. St. Martin's behavior becomes paranoid, they announce that they are pulling 88,000 copies of the book from stores. So much for America, so much for the Bill of Righ! ts.
Rove, Atwater and Horowitz
Karl Rove met Lee Atwater in 1972, and shortly afterward was investigated by the Republican National Committee for teaching "dirty tricks" to college students.
After G.W. Bush, Atwater and Rove created the Willie Horton scandal that scuttled Dukakis in 1988, Rove and Bush blindsided the popular incumbent Ann Richards in the Texas governor's race. Rove learned this strategy from Atwater—use the scare-tactics of shocking TV ads and personal attacks. Rove minimized Bush's public appearances and limited the spontaneous public speaking of the tongue-tied Bush, a tactic Rove revived in the recent race for president. Rove used Governor Bush's re-election campaign in 1998 as an opportunity to portray Bush as White House material, even if it meant falsifying data on minority voting. Rove made Bush campaign hard to decimate his already weak opponent Gary Mauro. With the "landslide," they created the impression of a racially-diverse, popular mandate, setting the stage for the superficially inclusive "Compassionate Conservatism" two years later.
Rove is a tough, burly, folksy character, a self-educated historian who never finished college. A life-long Republican strategist (and former consultant to tobacco giant Phillip Morris), he is known for discipline and hard-right ideological rigor. Yet, he is also known to burst spontaneously into song. Like Bush, he speaks in the common tongue. On television during the campaign, he was pugnacious, and taunting, calling opponents (like Mike Murphy of the McCain campaign), "Man." This salty use of late 60's youth culture slang belies Rove's identity as a leading conservative intellectual and a highly disciplined right-wing politico. Historically, Rove draws lessons from Machiavelli and Disraeli. He is in the tradition of such contemporary thinkers as Myron Magnet, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and James Q. Wilson, who shrink at the dynamism and inclusive energy of modern thought, and instead call for various returns to bygone eras.
After eight years of Bill Clinton, the Republicans were eager for blood. Rove turned to ex-Marxist David Horowitz, biographer of the Rockefellers and Kennedys, and author of Radical Son, the memoir of Horowitz's transformation from 60's Leftist to neoconservative.
For Campaign 2000, Horowitz wrote a book called The Art of Political War, in which he claimed that the left had a monopoly on strategy, aggression and tactics. The Republicans would not reclaim the White House until they crushed their opponent with the mercilessness of total war. Horowitz's story is that of a generation of 60's radicals who rebelled against war and imperialism, while simultaneously rejecting the Stalinist legacy of the previous generation's Left.
Horowitz's parents were life-long devotees of the Communist Party, USA, but Horowitz was a leading New Left communist until he witnessed violence in his association with the Black Panthers. He was so shaken that his politics veered off to the far right.
Today, he is best-known as the recent author of inflammatory ads in
college newspapers against slavery reparations for African-Americans. Horowitz
wrote The Art of Political War to call on New Republicans to create a politics
that appealed to the masses: the working poor, the working families, gays,
unions, etc. Karl Rove praised The Art of Political War as "A perfect pocket
guide to winning on the political battlefield" in its cover blurb. It is
recognized today as the genesis of "Compassionate Conservatism" and is
used nationwide bythe Republican Party Chairs in 32 states.