Hatfield and Cogswell at Quimby's bookstore in Chicago, June, 2001

December 12, 2002

Dilulio and Hatfield: A Study in Terror

Adam Joyce wrote a piece in The Spleen in which he discusses J.H. Hatfield, author of Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President, in light of the recent incident with former Bush adviser John Dilulio. I had made the same connection when I read about Dilulio, so I couldn't help writing a note to Adam Joyce. Here is the letter.

Dear Adam,

I read your piece on Hatfield with fascination. I had also made the connection between Dilulio and Hatfield. I was at the Book Expo with Sander Hicks and Jim Hatfield in Chicago in June 2001 when the second paperback edition of Fortunate Son was introduced. It was done with a press conference in which Sander revealed Jim's sources about the cocaine allegations, including Karl Rove and Clay ... (I forget his name now, I'm in Vancouver, B.C. away from all my stuff) and a minister who knew the family.

I wrote a postscript for that edition of the book at Jim's insistence. He and I had become close after I reviewed his book for American Book Review and it was one of the few sympathetic reviews he got. We started e-mailing each other and it developed into a few-times-a-day thing for the last nine months of his life or so.

I also said a few words at the press conference Sander called to introduce the new book and announce that he was revealing Jim's sources. Jim also spoke to the press people who came to the conference. They were very hostile to him. The viciousness of their attacks seemed inappropriate to the situation to me, but that just shows how far from the mainstream my thinking is. To me he was to be applauded for writing a very informative and readable biography of Bush when almost no one had the guts go beyond Bush's PR material. The book was much more sympathetic to Bush than I could ever have been. It actually induced some empathy in me for Bush for the first time ever. I had only felt loathing for him up to that time.

After the press conference Jim and I went and had a beer together. I found the whole situation quite frightening. The hostility of the press was really unsettling considering the fact that the proper role of the press, in my mind, is to challenge those in power. But instead they were acting like Bush's armed guards. All their critical facility was aimed at the author of the book and no consideration was given to the questions raised in the book about Bush's character or his qualifications for president, which seemed to me to be the relevant subject in an election, but was avoided almost totally by the media.

After Sander had revealed Karl Rove as a source who snitched on his buddy George, and Jim had in fact affirmed it when the press asked him, they had effectively doublecrossed Rove and confronted some of the most powerful and vicious people in the world. I was there with them at the press conference and I found the whole thing terrifying. I had read enough about the Bush family to know they were nothing like their public image. To me they were not to be trifled with.

I sat there with Jim in the aftermath of the press conference and he too, I could see, was afraid. I was just a bystander, but Jim was in the spotlight. He had nowhere to hide. And since Sander had outed him, so to speak, had induced him to doublecross Rove (or at least to accuse Rove, depending on whether you believe Hatfield or don't, as most of the press didn't) he was more in the line of fire than ever.

He had been a great friend to me in the months I had known him and I had told him so. At that moment, he reminded me of my declarations of friendship in the past and in effect asked me not to abandon him now. As I sat across from him and he put his hand on my arm with a pleading look, he looked terribly vulnerable to me, one small man against the massive power of the Bush machine. I had enough proximity to his situation in that moment to get a sense of the burden under which he labored since the book came out and his own criminal record had come out and become a major scandal.

He had told me that Clay whats-his-name had threatened Jim's wife and child by name over the phone to try to intimidate Jim to withdraw the book. And that was before Clay's name had been made public as a source. About a month and a half after that press conference, Jim was dead.

I had some phone calls from him after our meeting in Chicago in which he had wanted to talk to me about his troubles, but he was a little vague about it all. I obviously underestimated the seriousness of the situation. Then several of his friends got an e-mail from his wife -- although some think Jim sent it himself under her name -- describing a breakdown he had had, which had been the catalyst for committing him to a rehab center. When he was in the institution, my email correspondence with him stopped because he was supposedly not with his computer. I had some exchanges with his wife by e-mail. She said he was doing well. Then suddenly one day someone forwarded the story to me that he had committed suicide.

I think he was terrified, harassed, worn down, shamed. He obviously had a weakness in his criminal record and that was used to hammer him until he just caved in. His in-laws had not known of his criminal past, so when the whole thing came out, he was shamed and essentially destroyed. At least that was how he saw it. One day he was on the verge of a successful writing career with his deal with St. Martin, and then he descended to hell.

Linda Starr said, "Even a chicken can peck you to death. I think the Bush administration pecked him to death."

When I read the Dilulio stuff, I thought of Jim too. So when I saw your article, I couldn't resist writing.

See The John Dilulio Affair

Back to Home Page