Dear Friends and Members of the Press,
We have been reeling from the news since Friday. Jim Hatfield is gone. In a country where not enough reporters and talking heads have the courage to speak truth to power, Hatfield, the President's most controversial biographer, ended his own life in solitude in an Arkansas motel last week.
I knew Jim. He could be tempestuous, moody and unpredictable. He was also intensely driven, articulate and full of Southern charm. When I spoke with his widow Nancy on Friday, we agreed, "He was a good writer." He was a hell of a fighter and you wanted him on your side. Just last month we spent a weekend together in Chicago on the trade show floor of Book Expo America. He signed books, shook hands, worked the crowd, spoke out, strategized with me and revealed sources. We went non-stop together to promote his Bush biography Fortunate Son. He was fond of quoting Langston Hughes, "I've been insulted, eliminated, locked in, locked out, and left holding the bag. But I am still here."
Like Hughes, Hatfield will live on through his books. Jim's life will not be soon forgotten. The story of Fortunate Son is gravely important. Jim was on the verge of collapse due to financial difficulties, and part of this was due to the failure of this book. The American media followed the trail laid for them: the piercing inquiries into Bush's drug history were diverted into ironic stories about Jim Hatfield's own checkered past. After Hatfield was fed information and then discredited, he faced financial ruin and obscurity. He lost two other book contracts. His death was by his own hand but the causes go deeper. October of 1999 was glorious for him: he celebrated the initial publication of Fortunate Son and the birth of his daughter. But October was shattered by a book burning, a two-year long media carnival, and the character assassination of Jim Hatfield, an ex convict turned author who had paid his debt to society.
Jim Hatfield's death is in part on the hands of an imperious American media establishment that reserves the softest touch money can buy for George W. Bush and all sons of privilege. Jim Hatfield, a working class journalist unannointed by the media elite, was viciously made into an example.
He had a fearlessness that will be missed.
-Soft Skull Press
July 23, 2001