On MSNBC this morning, NBC White House reporter Chuck Todd decried how Googling has ruined the Old Media's ability to submerge smear stories about national politicians. But in 1999 and 2000, the liberal media were quite interested in long bouts of speculation about whether George W. Bush has used cocaine. Were they "Bush-cokers"? The supposed "crown jewel" of TV journalism, CBS's 60 Minutes, even awarded a segment to an author claiming Bush was covering up an arrest for cocaine. It was pitched as "how did this book get published," but CBS laid out all the rumors and told viewers there was a new publisher and a book tour (ahem, in case you want to wallow in this dirty pool.)
As Brent Baker reported back on February 14, 2000:
As outlined in the February 12 CyberAlert, the 60 Minutes Web site plug began: "Just because he lied to his editors about being a convicted felon isn't a good enough reason for those editors to doubt his book, in which he uses anonymous sources to accuse George W. Bush of covering up an arrest for cocaine when he was a young man. That's what J.H. Hatfield, author of Fortunate Son, a book its initial publisher pulled from the shelves for lack of credibility, tells 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl in his first interview on Sunday, Feb. 13.
"St. Martin's Press 'pulled the book because I have a criminal background and that doesn't have anything to do with the price of eggs in China,' Hatfield tells Stahl. He admits hiring a man to kill a woman for him, committing burglary, writing bad checks, embezzling and taking kickbacks."
In fact, Stahl opened her February 13 report:
"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 St. Martin's Press go ahead with the book when the author couldn't offer proof that the charge was true?"
Stahl proceeded to recount many of the same facts noted in the February 12 CyberAlert about Hatfield's history. She reported that he has no direct witness and that there were no Republican judges in Texas at the time. She showed how Hatfield denied hiring anyone to commit murder when first confronted by Dallas Morning News reporter Pete Slover.
Then this odd exchange took place, with Hatfield displaying some Clinton-like reasoning:
Stahl: "As a teenager you were arrested for writing bad checks."
Hatfield: "That's not true."
Stahl: "Not true?"
Hatfield: "What is the definition of 'teenager'?"
Stahl: "Oh, so were you arrested as a young man?"
Hatfield: "Yes I was."
Stahl: "How old were you?"
Hatfield: "Probably, ah, 19."
So, 19, as in nineTEEN, does not make you a TEENager?
Stahl relayed that original publisher St. Martin's Press didn't know about Hatfield's criminal background until the Dallas Morning News publicized it last October, prompting them to recall the book. Literary agent Jim Fitzgerald told Stahl they didn't care about checking out the author because they got the rights cheap and had hoped to make money quick by cashing in on interest in Bush.
Hatfield contended his book is accurate since St. Martin's Press lawyers vetted it, leading Stahl to question what that meant:
Stahl: "While St. Martin's never claimed the book was fact-checked, they did put out a press release saying it was 'scrupulously corroborated and sourced.'"
Stahl to Hatfield: "What kind of proof did they ask for to confirm/verify the cocaine charges in the book?"
Hatfield: "Nothing actually. We discussed who they [sources] were, not their identities. Even the lawyer didn't ask me who they were and I started to offer to her, because I knew we would have attorney-client confidentiality, she said 'I don't want to know.'"
Stahl ended the piece by promoting Hatfield's just-released new edition of the book published by another company: "Hatfield was devastated at losing his publisher, but within days he had a new one, an outfit called Soft Skull Press."
Viewers saw a bit of video of a party with loud rap music as a man sporting a mohawk hairdo boasted: "We are printing 45,000 and we will not be silent in the face of injustice. Alright. Whoa."
Stahl soon identified him as Sander Hicks, the head of Soft Skull Press, a business he started at Kinko's. He admitted to Stahl that he had not checked the assertions made in the book because St. Martin's lawyers had already approved the text.
Stahl wrapped up:
Stahl: "Hatfield says he stands by what he wrote and, incredible as it seems, can't understand why he's not more in demand."
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."
Stahl: "Well, not exactly. Tomorrow he starts a book tour."
If any publicity is good publicity, then despite CBS's dismissal of the actual allegations against Bush, the network gave Hatfield a Valentine's Eve gift of publicity, to say nothing of the shot for book sales for Soft Skull Press. Who ever heard of them before?
And unlike the tracking of conservative ties a network story would surely include on a book featuring wild allegations against a liberal, Stahl did not spend any time tracking down links to liberal groups or political operatives out to hurt Bush.