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Fact or fiction? Kelley's tell-all on Bush family draws attention

So far, Kitty Kelley's gossipy new book about the Bush family is a publisher's and author's dream. For the White House and the Bush-Cheney campaign, it's a potential nightmare. But judging from some reaction in journalism and media circles, uneasiness about Kelley's methods and veracity have called the book into question.

Coming in the wake of "Unfit for Command," the best-selling book by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that attacks John Kerry's Vietnam record, and the controversy over CBS News' use of documents concerning President Bush's National Guard record, Kelley's books raises the temperature in the furious debate about the character and pasts of the two presidential candidates.

Even before its release this week, "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty" was ranked No. 1 on both Amazon

.com and Barnes & Noble, and publisher Doubleday (a division of the Random House empire) has gone back to press twice, printing a total of 720,000 copies. Kelley has made the TV rounds, including an appearance on NBC's "Today" show. "It's a book filled with garbage that was discredited, disavowed, and dismissed years ago," White House press spokesman Scott McClellan said last week. The New York Times reported that a White House official had tried unsuccessfully to dissuade NBC from having Kelley on "Today." Meanwhile, Sharon Bush, former sister-in-law of President Bush, vehemently denies statements attributed to her in the book about alleged cocaine use by the president.

Kelley and her publisher aren't backing off. "I'm so comfortable with it," Kelley said of the drug allegations in a telephone interview yesterday. "I know it's true. If anything was not corroborated, it didn't get in."

Added David Drake, a spokesman for Doubleday: "We absolutely stand behind Kitty's reporting on this book."

Among a steady stream of statements about the character and actions of members of the Bush family, reaching back several generations, the 634-page book alleges that President George H.W. Bush had affairs; that first lady Laura Bush used and sold marijuana while in college; and that the current president Bush used cocaine at Camp David, the presidential retreat, while his father was president from 1989 to 1993.

The book has encountered resistance from some mainstream media outlets. CNN's Larry King declined to have Kelley as a guest, and both Newsweek and Time balked at giving the book early publicity. Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker told The Washington Post that the magazine balked when Doubleday required a reporter to sign a commitment not to interview Kelley's sources without the publisher's permission. Time managing editor Jim Kelly said, "You obviously would have to fact-check the hell out of it" before running an excerpt.

Kelley quotes two unidentified men as saying that President George W. Bush used cocaine during his student days at Yale. But two months before the presidential election, the much more recent Camp David claim is potentially the most explosive. The book says: "George's sister-in-law Sharon Bush [ex-wife of the president's brother Neil] alleged that W. had snorted cocaine with one of his brothers. . . . `Not once,' she said, `but many times.' "   Continued...

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