Busted: Bush or Biographer?

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For a moment there, it looked as if J. H. Hatfield might have become John McCain's new best friend. Hatfield, a former Texan, recently penned an unauthorized biography of George W. Bush that said W. was once arrested for cocaine possession and subsequently cleared by one of daddy's judicial pals. Both Georges vigorously denied the account, but that didn't keep Hatfield's publishers at St. Martin's Press from churning out 90,000 advance copies of "Fortunate Son." Now, in a twist that jibes nicely with George W.'s seamless good luck, Texas law enforcement officials have decided that J. H. Hatfield is in fact James Hatfield, who served time for the attempted murder of his boss 11 years ago. Hatfield disputes the charges, but St. Martin's Press has suspended printings of the book and is notifying booksellers of its questionable origins.

And this development sets the stage for the "legitimate" national media, who are swooping in on this story like so many vultures. Whereas a week ago the cocaine allegations were relegated primarily to supermarket rags, the new revelations about Hatfield allow the general media to pounce on the more sordid aspects of "Fortunate Son." The New York Times, for example, admitted to receiving an advance copy of the book but decided against printing the cocaine story because they "spent several days looking for evidence that might corroborate Hatfield's account." They came up short, and dropped the story until now. Will the public dismemberment of Hatfield's credibility do anything to reinforce a hands-off attitude among the national media when it comes to dubious claims about public figures? "It should, but it probably won't," says TIME Washington correspondent John Dickerson. "The pressure on news organizations to get the big story is incredibly intense."