A prelude to questions by Welker: It's hard to know why Hillary Clinton can't explain her email practices in a coherent way.
That said, it's painful to watch big journalists try to discuss the matter. Last night, the analysts cringed when CNN's Randi Kaye gave it the old college try.
Kaye was introduced by John Berman, guest hosting for Anderson Cooper. Referring to Clinton, Berman teased "one of her biggest weaknesses with the voters, questions about her honesty."
Kaye began her report like this. Quickly, the analysts cringed:
KAYE (8/8/16): A warm greeting for Hillary Clinton as she swings through the swing state of Florida, where she's leading her opponent by six points...But what about Hillary Clinton's own history? Benghazi, her private e-mail server, false claims about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia. It's all part of the same narrative and why many voters don't trust her."False claims"—in the plural?—"about landing under sniper fire?"
The analysts shifted in their seats as Kaye journeyed back a full eight years to find a misstatement, then seemed to pluralize it.
(By the way, what's the false claim about Benghazi? Kaye tossed that topic on the pile as if everyone already knew.)
Kaye continued along from there. Soon, the power of pluralization reared its head again:
KAYE (continuing directly): The latest CBS polls shows just 34 percent of registered voters say Clinton is honest and trustworthy, compared to 36 percent for Donald Trump. Even among her supporters at this rally in St. Petersburg there were lingering questions about her e-mails:Fowler thought something about Benghazi was "a cover-up." Kaye didn't ask what the alleged cover-up was, nor did she try to explain whether Fowler's perception was accurate.
GLENDA WILLIAMS, FLORIDA VOTER: Of course we have concerns. We would like to know definitively. We may never know definitively.
KAYE: Voter Denise Fowler lost trust in Mrs. Clinton after the attacks in Benghazi.
DENISE FOWLER, FLORIDA VOTER: I thought that was a cover-up, so that's when my distrust really started to step up.
KAYE: Still, both of these women say they will vote for Hillary Clinton, even despite her repeated false claims that the FBI director had said she told the truth about her e-mails to the public.
Kaye then pluralized again, referring to Clinton's "repeated false claims" about what Comey said. (Scribes are now saying that Clinton gave two mistaken accounts of what Comey said. Given Kaye's imprecise account, it could have been several hundred.)
By now, the analysts were screaming at Kaye, telling her to "use her number words." But wouldn't you know it? Just like that, a third offense occurred:
KAYE: Clinton later walked back her comments, saying she had short-circuited her brain in her answer, a comment her critics immediately jumped on. But voters here accepted that explanation.Hillary Clinton didn't say that she had "short-circuited her brain." Even Trump didn't take his language that far. Last night, CNN did.
Clinton has done a lousy job answering questions about this topic. When our journalists try to discuss the topic, things get that much worse.
We still want to show you the questions to which Clinton responded last Friday, during her most recent clumsy explanation. Those questions came from NBC's Kristin Welker. But first, let's get clear on this:
What did John B. Comey the God actually say about Clinton? He said she was "extremely careless" in her email practices. But in what specific acts did that alleged carelessness consist?
Just so you'll know it isn't just us, let's review the August 1 post in which Kevin Drum reviewed this basic question. Drum summarized the three major claims advanced by Comey the God:
DRUM (8/1/16): Here is my understanding of the results of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's 33,000 emails:Drum was (almost wholly) correct. Those are indeed the three major claims made by Comey the God.
*3 were marked classified. Two of these were classified in error. The third was classified correctly but was marked improperly (and was pretty trivial anyway).
*110 contained information that wasn't marked classified, but which Hillary and her aides "should have known" was sensitive. That's according to FBI Director James Comey. Based on previous reporting, virtually all of these probably related to the drone program in Pakistan, which was classified but had been extensively reported in the press.
*About 2,000 emails were retroactively classified as part of the FOIA process.
When Comey testified on July 7 before the House committee, he showed no interest in the 2000 emails which were "up-classified" (classified as part of the FOIA process years after the fact). He treated them as the fruit of an arcane inter-agency matter of little importance or interest.
It's also true that the concern about those three "marked emails" has basically collapsed, except in the wilds of cable. Even in Comey's jaundiced account, there were only three such emails out of more than 30,000 in all. And Comey acknowledged, under questioning, that they had all been "marked" incorrectly! It reflects quite badly on Comey the God that this information had to be pulled from him by House members. He never should have raised this matter without volunteering that point.
That leaves the 110 emails! The remaining dispute between Clinton and Comey would seem to involve them, and them alone.
Comey said the 110 emails contained material which was plainly secret, whether it was "marked" or not. Such material is sometimes referred to as having been "born classified."
With regard to The Born Classified 110, Comey acted like Secretary Clinton had been emailing the nuclear codes all around, accompanied by the names of major CIA agents. When she spoke with Chris Wallace two Sundays ago, Clinton seemed to say that she and her associates had no reason to think that the material in those emails should have been viewed as classified.
The remaining dispute concerns The 110! Tomorrow, by way of contrast, we'll show you the pair of questions Welker asked Clinton last week.
Our upper-end "press corps" is quite unimpressive. There's no need to go back eight years, or to pluralize things, to make this unfortunate, obvious point.
Tomorrow: Questions by Welker