WASHINGTON -- A major New York publishing house suspended distribution and promotion of a new biography of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas yesterday after a Texas newspaper reported that the book's author was convicted 11 years ago of hiring a professional killer in a failed attempt to murder his boss.
Officials of the publisher, St. Martin's Press, said they wanted to conduct an inquiry into the background and reporting methods of the author, J. H. Hatfield, before continuing to push the sale of his book, "Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President," which began appearing on store shelves this week.
The book includes the claim -- attributed to anonymous sources -- that Bush, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, was arrested for cocaine possession in 1972 and that a judge promptly expunged the record as a favor to Bush's father. Although Bush and his father, former President George Bush, unequivocally denied the accusation this week, it appeared in many prominent publications.
Officials with St. Martin's Press said they were concerned about the reliability of the information.
"Since Mr. Hatfield's credibility has been called into serious question, we feel compelled to suspend publication," Sally Richardson, president and publisher of the trade division of St. Martin's, said in a written statement.
In a telephone interview, Richardson said Hatfield had told an executive of the publishing house that he was being confused with someone else and, contrary to what the Dallas Morning News reported yesterday, is not a felon on parole.
"We are trying to get to the bottom of this," Richardson said. "We just don't know what to think at this point.
"We are struggling."
Hatfield, reached by telephone at his home in Arkansas, said lawyers had instructed him not to talk to reporters about the situation.