SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2022
We humans, attempting to function: Decades ago, the comedy world was in a general uproar.
At issue was the number of raisins a person might find in a scoop.
Kellogg's was promising "two scoops of raisins" in every box of Raisin Bran. That said, the company was making this explicit promise on its giant FAMILY SIZE carton—but also on its famously tiny single-serving box!
(This nearly five-pound, boxcar-sized carton was so huge that it contained two separate bags of Raisin Bran. But the Kellogg's people were alleging that it too contained "two scoops!")
A potent philosophical debate had thereby broken out. How could every size carton of Raisin Bran contain the same two scoops? Was Kellogg's perhaps using different sized scoops? Inquiring minds needed to know.
Yesterday afternoon, a similar problem arose as the men and women of cable news tried to explain, or at least attempted to seem to be trying to explain, a new arrival on the front. On the surface, the question was this:
How many top-secret documents come in a set? Alternately, how many top-secret documents come in a box?
That was the new basic question. Beneath the surface, the anthropological question was this:
To what extent are we human beings built for explanation?
As you know, the background to this newly-arrived rumination was and is this:
The GSA had clumsily included some top-secret documents in the packages a former president had taken to his muggy Florida nesting place, Mar-a-Lago.
The former president had no idea that the GSA had stupidly done this. Quite plainly, it wasn't the former president's fault, and certainly not on Fox.
Yesterday afternoon, a magistrate judge released an inventory of the materials the FBI removed from the former president's premises in Monday's court-authorized search.
(This "raid" took place "in the predawn hours," though only for those who watch Fox.)
On cable, famous stars began attempting to describe the contents of that inventory. The effort continues on the front page of today's New York Times:
HABERMAN ET AL (8/13/22): Federal agents removed top secret documents when they searched former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence on Monday as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant made public on Friday.
F.B.I. agents seized 11 sets of documents in all, including some marked as “classified/TS/SCI”—shorthand for “top secret/sensitive compartmented information,” according to an inventory of the materials seized in the search. Information categorized in that fashion is meant to be viewed only in a secure government facility.
In total, agents collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, the inventory showed.
The highlighted statements are technically accurate. Los federales had, in fact, seized and removed "11 sets of documents in all."
Elsewhere, the number of documents taken has been enumerated by the "box." That said, this raised an obvious question.
Just how many top-secret documents come in a "set" or a "box?"
Is a "set of documents" a lot of documents, or is it just a little? In fairness, there's no apparent way to answer that question at the present time, based on the inventory released by the magistrate judge.
That said, we watched hour after hour of cable "news" last night. We saw no one call attention to the imprecision of quantification surrounding this endless discussion.
Did Donald J. Trump have a very large number of top-secret documents, or did he have just a few? On our campus, this seemed like an obvious point of concern—but as is often the case on cable, this elementary factual question seemed to occur to no one.
Is a "set" of documents a lot or a little? Also, how many documents come in a "box?" Just how big are these boxes?
Sometimes as we watched cable, it even seemed to us that a smaller number of boxes had entered Trump's premises and a larger number of boxes had, over time, emerged. Still, the cable stars lumbered along, tending to group around message.
They attempted to convict or defend the former president, depending on which channel they were on. But no one attempted to estimate the size of the unauthorized stash which cluttered the Mar-a-Lago property, though certainly not by the pool.
How many documents come in a set, or in a box? To our ear, that was one unidentified question. A second such question was this:
What explains the chronology surrounding that visit in June?
Apparently in early June, some officials from the FBI visited Wreck-of-the-Hesperus. You can watch many hours of cable discussion without getting a clear idea of the way the chronology surrounding this visit works.
You'll hear that the FBI officials met with lawyers for Trump. You'll hear that they later instructed agents for Trump to put a padlock on the door to a room where materials were being stored.
You'll hear those statements again and again, then you'll hear them some more. You'll rarely hear anyone try to untangle the puzzles here, or even note the fact that such obvious puzzles exist. To wit:
Why did the FBI suggest or order the installation of the padlock?
If officials thought that top-secret materials were, or might be, in that room, why didn't they simply take such materials when they were on-site in June? If they thought they already had the relevant materials, why did they care if a padlock was placed on the room days later?
You can watch hours of cable news without hearing these puzzles identified. (To see Mick Mulvaney attempt to do so last night on CNN, you can just click here.)
Instead, you'll hear pundits on one channel wondering how long Donald J. Trump could end up being in jail. On the other channel, you'll hear screeching gargoyles angrily asking why Hillary Clinton is still on the loose. Mary Dagen McDowell of The Five, angrily come on down!
Briefly, let's be clear:
As far as we know, there is no way for cable news stars to report the actual number of documents with which the hapless GSA saddled the plainly innocent Trump.
How many documents come in a set? How many come in a box? Cable stars can't provide specific numbers. They could at least call attention to the nature of this basic, undisclosed fact.
As far as we know, there is no way for cable stars to explain what happened in and around that visit to Casa-el-Bunko in June. In the interest of clarity, they could at least identify the unresolved points of puzzlement which seem to surround that event.
At a time like this, the various stars of cable news talk and talk and talk. On Fox, the cable stars all tell you one story. On MSNBC, you hear a different tale.
(Under current arrangements, these segregated groups of talkers almost never meet.)
In this instance, there is one other obvious question we'd like to hear identified by various cable stars. That question goes like this:
Is it possible that Donald J. Trump was selling the chance to view these, and possibly other, top-secret documents?
Obviously, yes—it's possible! Also, we have no idea if any such thing has occurred.
That said, the FBI apparently subpoenaed Mar-a-Lago surveillance tape to let them see who entered, or possibly who had previously entered, The Room With the Shiny New Padlock (alternately, The Room For a View). Our basic question would be this:
How many "wine stewards" at Mar-a-Lago are newly arrived from some hostile power? Could that explain why they kept going in and out of that room?
With that, we return to the day's basic questions:
How many raisins come in a scoop? Also, how many top-secret documents come in a set or a box?
We've spoken to major experts concerning these unresolved questions. Concerning the documents, the consensus is this:
Question: How many documents come in a set?
Answer: Quite likely, a genuine shitload!