'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Horns, Halos, and Occam's Razor

Well, I watched Horns and Halos on Cinemax last night. It's a documentary about Soft Skull Press's struggle to reprint the controversial Bush biography Fortunate Son. In terms of cinema, it's a pretty good movie, definitely worth seeing -- an interesting portrait of Soft Skull's founder Sander Hicks and of J. H. Hatfield, the author of Fortunate Son who tragically committed suicide in a large part because of the controversy. (If you are not familiar with this story, scroll down to my post What Was Helen Getting At?)

But do I feel the movie gave me any more reason to believe the notorious Bush/cocaine arrest/community service rumor? Not really. Perhaps I even believe Hatfield's tale a little less now, because prior to seeing the movie I was under the impression that Hatfield's three anonymous sources were nobodies who didn't speak out on the record to avoid Republican backlash. The movie reveals the sources were non-nobodies who Hatfield did not reveal, not to protect them, but because they would deny his story: Karl Rove, Clay Johnson, and Bush's minister Rev. Jim Mayfield.

Why would Karl Rove tell a Bush biographer that Bush got arrested for cocaine possession in 1972? Here's Sander Hicks in his own words (talking to David Horowitz no less):

HICKS: In fact, I'd like to refer you to my piece published on our website, the new Publisher's Preface that's at press right now in the new edition. We've revealed these sources now, and one of them is Rove. hatfield was in contact with Rove throughout his research process, during Fortunate Son originally. In August of '99, Salon were the first people to break this news. They got this tip and reported it: Bush was arrested for cocaine possession in 1972, and that's why he did volunteer community service at Project P.U.L.L. in Houston. So Hatfield called Rove back up and he called Clay Johnson and got the full story from them. The reason they actually GAVE him the full story, albeit with some flaws that were deliberate so they could later discredit him, was that I think they already knew Hatfield was a felon. They could discredit the entire story, they could manipulate the media. They could use Hatfield, and release Hatfield's record, release it to the Dallas Morning News that Hatfield himself was a felon. They could completely sweep the media, wipe the slate clean, and take the media's focus on Bush and Bush's wild years, and cast the spotlight right back on Hatfield. Destroy the news of Bush's drug history by destroying the messenger. Which is genius, in some ways....

HOROWITZ: Yeah. I thank Karl Rove if he did that, and the country thanks him and the world thanks him.

Look I want to believe this story. Sander seems like a nice guy and I feel really bad about Hatfield ... but all we have is Sander's word and all he has is Hatfield's word and Hatfield is dead. Hatfield, by his own admission, was trying to make a big splash, was trying to climb the literary food chain. When Hatfield had Rove telling him this story on the phone, why didn't he turn on his tape recorder?

I also think Hicks' claim just plays into this deification I see on the left of Karl Rove as some kind of criminal mastermind. I think it's a counter-productive fixation. Everyone is so defeatist, figuring Bush has to win because Karl Rove is omnipotent. Karl Rove is just some guy. He's good at running a dirty campaign, fine -- Mephistopheles he is not.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the film. But you know ... Who knows? I still think some version of Hatfield's story might be true, based not on the work of Hatfield, but based on empirical observation of the lengths to which BushCo went in covering up whatever they are covering up regarding the AWOL narrative.

If anyone has any thoughts on Hatfield's version of the story or why we should believe it, I'd be interested in hearing them...

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