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Horns and Halos: The Strange Life and Death of JH Hatfield

StoryFebruary 18, 2004
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We take a look at a new documentary titled “Horns and Halos” that follows JH Hatfield, the author of a controversial biography on George W Bush, and his publishing house Soft Skull Press. [includes transcript]

Tonight the movie channel Cinemax will premiere a new documentary called Horns and Halos, which follows JH Hatfield, the author of a controversial biography on George W Bush, and his publishing house Soft Skull Press.

The book called “Fortunate Son” was intended to be what’s called a “clip job”–a book based primarily on newspaper clippings and already published material. It was rushed out in 1998 when it became clear that Bush was on the rise as a Republican candidate for president.

Hatfield, the author, had previously assembled quick unauthorized bios on Ewan McGregor and Patrick Stewart. What made this book different was the use of stories that Hatfield encountered providing evidence that George W. Bush had been arrested for cocaine and that his father had acted to have the arrest expunged from the police record.

His publisher St. Martin’s Press referred to the book as its new “MJ”–or Michael Jordan and upped the number of books in the first publishing run several times, thinking it would be a hot seller.

Then came the news, unearthed by Dallas Morning News reporter Pete Slover, that author Hatfield had served time for “solicitation of capital murder.” St. Martin’s said this diminished Hatfield’s credibility and they withdrew the book. Hatfield accused the Bush family of intimidating the publisher.

But then the head of a small publishing house, Soft Skull Press bought up the rights for the book and ultimately published it.

The documentary is directed by Suki Hawley and Michael Gallinsky join us in our Firehouse studios.

  • Michael Galinsky, director and cinematographer for Horns and Halos.
  • Suki Hawley, director and editor of Horns and Halos.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The documentary that follows this whole story called “Horns and Halos” will be airing tonight on Cinemax. It’s directed by Suki Holly and Michael Galenski who both join us at Firehouse studios.

MICHAEL GALINSKY: Thank you for having us.

AMY GOODMAN: J.H. Hatfield, the author of the book, who we did interview on Democracy Now! Years ago, allegedly committed suicide in what year?

SUKI HAWLEY: It was 2001.

AMY GOODMAN: 2001. Can talk about the significant of your film coming out now and showing across the country?

SUKI HAWLEY: Well, actually, our film has been showing across the country for the last year, theatrically. It does have its big release tonight on Cinemax. And it is significant because of the primaries that are going on across the country. And just especially with the National Guard issue coming up Bush. Which also was in the book, and Hatfield explained in detail, and the book was ignored during the last campaign.

MICHAEL GALINSKY: The media is really largely — the movie follows two people. It’s not just a slag on Bush. The movie follows these people through their story. But the subtext is about media and the way stories move through the media. There’s stuff in the book that was not discussed, the Harken Energy story the Texas Rangers. All of these things that were well known as you said they were part of a clip job. They were well known and well reported but not reported on during the campaign. That’s kind of what’s interesting because it’s coming up now.

AMY GOODMAN: J.H. Hatfield, I think in the subsequent editions, he had the allegations of cocaine use taken out. Is that right?

SUKI HAWLEY: No. In fact, it was — they were sued over an introduction that Hatfield wrote in the new Soft Skull edition, where he basically explained his criminal past, which is what caused others to drop the book. That was taken out after the lawsuit was settled. Agreeing to take that out, but the cocaine allegations were left in the book.

AMY GOODMAN: But he said, and something that was controversial was he said that Karl Rove had leaked to him the issue of the cocaine use. I want to go to a clip of the film. It’s when JH Hatfield was being questioned by reporters at a book fair. Karl Rove was the man who JH Hatfield said he spoke to, which is hard to believe why would Karl Rove out Bush in this way?

MICHAEL GALINSKY: What he alleges in the press conference is that Rove called him because he wanted to cross the t’s and dot the i’s in the book and make sure everything was correct. Hatfield said he went back to Rove when he had the story and he played poker with him, is what he says in the press conference. He says, I’m going to have other sources, do you want to put your spin on it. As far as we were concerned this was a questionable aspect of the book. We leave that in the film, letting him — he says it, but none of the reporters at that event questioned Rove about it, and nobody reported on it, except for Page Six.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s see the press conference.

REPORTER: What is your source on the cocaine?

JH HATFIELD: Well, Sanders kind of put me in a — between a rock and a hard spot, but now with the re-launching of this new edition, yeah. Karl Rove was my — one of my major sources.

REPORTER: Why would Karl Rove tell you that? How do you know that he was telling the truth?

JH HATFIELD: He contacted me the first time in June of 1999. The book was finished. It was turned in. I had a May deadline with St. Martin’s Press. He just said, I’m a Bush campaign person, I want to make sure that the nuts and bolts are correct. I corroborated everything that he told me that weekend with secondary and third sources.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of “Horns and Halos”. We only have a few seconds you can conclude it.

MICHAEL GALINSKY: I was just going to say, he alleges this, that’s one of the questionable aspects of the book, the meat of the book, you know, if you forget the cocaine story, is a lot of important information that was not discussed in the campaign. That was significant to us as we followed the story. The Harken Energy letter was in the book. The information about Bush draft dodging. Information about how he got the Texas Rangers and a land grab, et cetera. This is all in the book with you not discussed in the campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: This film will be on Cinemax tonight. Thank you for being with us.

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