Asleep on the Job: Noonan Skips Facts

Many journalists and authors have faced the problem of writing about a public figure whom they have never met or spoken with, and who is unlikely to consent to an interview. It is a problem that can be addressed by rummaging through clippings and speeches, by interviewing the subject’s friends, family and staffers, by perusing the massive record now available in libraries, databases, and the search engines of the World Wide Web.

Or, if the author is lucky enough to be Peggy Noonan, writing about Hillary Rodham Clinton, she can literally dream up an exciting incident-and then set down this fantasy as if it possesses profound meaning.

Her peculiar approach has worked well. Ms. Noonan’s book-length “polemic,” The Case Against Hillary Clinton , is reaping enormous sales. The only drawback to her venture in what might be called “imaginative journalism” is the unlikely possibility that somebody will quibble about facts.

For those unfamiliar with Ms. Noonan’s career, she is a former broadcast journalist turned Republican speechwriter and essayist. Her best known trope is the immortal “thousand points of light,” uttered by George Bush as he accepted his party’s presidential nomination in the summer of 1988. Ms. Noonan’s musings appear with some regularity on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal -where, late in 1998, she published a paean to U.S. Representative Bob Livingston, who, it later turned out, had been paying her handsomely for her consulting services (and who sheepishly quit Congress when his philandering became public).

So it was hardly surprising when, with lavish support from the publishing arm of the Rupert Murdoch conglomerate, Ms. Noonan decided that what America needs most is yet another Hillary-bashing book. According to the preface, she took personal offense at the notion that the First Lady would run for the U.S. Senate from Ms. Noonan’s home state. (She and her publisher may also have noticed how briskly those other Hillary-bashing books were selling.) “And so I offer my thoughts,” she writes modestly, “as a citizen of New York.”

So urgent was this endeavor that Ms. Noonan could waste no time on basic research, let alone source notes or even an index. And the earnest author, not content to offer us her deep thoughts, decided to serve up her dreams as well.

At least one dream, anyway, in which Mrs. Clinton personally confronts the mostly Democratic moguls of Hollywood on the question of violent entertainment after the Columbine High School shootings. This strange conceit drags on for 17 pages until Ms. Noonan awakes, only to realize with crushing disappointment that “it never happened and really, it never will.”

No, not as scripted so luridly by Ms. Noonan. But if the author herself were really concerned about violence and kids, she might have learned a little about what Mrs. Clinton has tried to do about the issue.

Last June 1, for instance, the First Lady stood before cameras in the Rose Garden and quoted a Surgeon General’s report from 1972 which warned that “children imitate and learn from everything they see…It would be extraordinary, indeed, if they did not imitate and learn from what they see on television.” She went on to say that “today…our culture is even more saturated with TV programs, movies and songs that romanticize and glorify violence…We can no longer ignore the well-documented connection between violence in the media and the effects that it has on children’s behavior.”

In fact, Mrs. Clinton has spoken out on this matter many times; but she and her husband have done more than talk. The White House took the lead in promoting the controversial V-chip and a ratings system, both of which were initially opposed by their friends in the entertainment industry. The First Lady has organized P.T.A. and other parent organizations to lobby for better children’s programming and to mount a national campaign against youth violence. And of course the Clintons have taken on both the gun and tobacco lobbies in defense of children (unlike Ms. Noonan’s pals on Capitol Hill).

All that is mere mundane reality, which rarely provides sufficiently colorful material for a writer like Ms. Noonan. Her preference for dreams is perfectly understandable. I had a good one just the other night myself.

In my dream, an implacable Peggy Noonan rose up at a meeting of the Republican National Committee and badgered them into taking a good, hard look at themselves. “We conservatives should stop our prurient obsessing about the personal difficulties of the Clintons, and worry more about our own troubled marriages and illicit affairs,” she yelled. “We should stop pandering to the gun and tobacco merchants, and behave as if we want to protect America’s children. What I’m telling you is that we should be patriots, not hypocrites. And I don’t care if you guys never pay me another cent!”

Then I woke up.