TUESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2023
Two imitations of life: As of last Thursday night, the first few facts about the matter had started to emerge.
A limited number of classified documents had been found in a Washington office belonging to President Biden. That said, how many such classified documents had been found?
On that afternoon's Deadline: White House, Nicolle Wallace asked one of her favorite reporters and friends to explain:
WALLACE (1/12/23): Carol Leonnig, tell me what we know to be the facts at this hour about the classified documents that the Biden White House and the Biden lawyers have turned over to the [National] Archives and DOJ.
In the first four minutes of the show, Wallace had already offered an early primer in the ways the facts of this case seemed to differ from the earlier, year-long struggle involving classified documents and Donald J. Trump.
That said, the facts of this new case had just begun to emerge. Wallace asked Leonnig for the facts as they had come to be known at that hour.
Providing unintentional comic relief at one point, Leonnig replied as shown:
LEONNIG (continuing directly): Nicolle, you couldn't be more right in focusing on the differences between the so-called Trump case and the Biden case. What we know so far about Biden's classified records is that an assistant in his office is feeling very badly because there were less than a dozen, but still at least 11 or 12 copies of documents that were classified. that were in and discovered, in early November, in his center based in Wilmington, and also with Washington offices.
Later, very much later, in the last couple of days, more, a handful more of documents were found that were closer to Biden's home in Wilmington...
In fact, that additional "handful more of documents" had been found in Biden's Wilmington home. That said:
As is required by Cable News Law, Leonnig started by telling Wallace that she couldn't be any more right in what she had already said. These "deference rules" are now widely observed on blue and red tribe "cable news."
Weirdly, Leonnig then vouched for the sincerity and good faith of an unnamed Biden adviser. This Biden adviser was said to be "feeling very badly" about some unspecified aspect of these emerging events.
That was an extremely strange journalistic statement. The unintentional humor came when Leonnig tried to define the number of classified documents involved in this new chase.
How many such classified records had been found in the Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C.? There were "less than a dozen, but still at least 11 or 12," Leonnig told Wallace and the rest of the circle of friends.
Quickly, let's be fair! Leonnig is a very experienced, very high-ranking reporter for the Washington Post. It's also true that everyone gets their language tangled up on occasion, especially when they engage in contemporaneous, off-the-cuff speech.
Still, the analysts chuckled! According to Leonnig, the number of documents found at the Penn Biden Center was less than a dozen, but at least 11 or 12. We've spent the past four days trying to puzzle out what that formulation could correctly be said to mean.
("Less than a dozen" would mean that the number of documents was 11 at the most. "At least 11 or 12" would somewhat fuzzily seem to mean that the number was 11 at the least, and possibly more than 12.)
Everyone's can get tangled up, but the analysts chuckled at that. Much, much stranger was Leonnig's instant act of vouching for the Biden team's apparent good faith.
To this day, it remains hard to know exactly how many classified documents are involved in this new and unfortunate news event. Beyond that, our pundits rarely provide exact numbers about the number of documents involved in "the so-called Trump case."
For the record:
By most counts, 325 classified documents emerged from Trump's Mar-a-Lago lair during the endless attempt by the federal government to get the documents back. By most counts, sixty (60) of those documents had been marked Top Secret.
As far as anyone knows at this time, the basic numbers in these two cases are therefore vastly different. By most current accounts, fewer than twenty documents seem to have emerged in the Biden matter—and twenty is a substantially smaller number than 325.
That said, the Biden number is hard to define, in part because the Biden team has started reporting the number of classified pages found at his Wilmington home (apparently, six), rather than the number of classified documents. Inevitably, such distinctions will fly over the heads of the modern American journalist, including at the Washington Post, a famous American newspaper which is currently being transformed.
If you're interested in the basic facts of this case, the facts will often be hard to find. Something else won't be hard to find:
We refer to the dueling Storylines which will often be driving the action.
Last Thursday, when very few facts were actually known, Wallace was already working from tribal Storyline on her very popular blue tribe TV program. Within that tribal Storyline, Biden was a bewildered innocent in this evolving matter.
It may turn out to be the case that Biden actually was a bewildered innocent. That said, Storyline was running well ahead of known facts as Wallace unveiled her scripts.
Leonnig added unintentional comic relief with her puzzling account of the numbers. That night, on the Fox News Channel, a different Storyline emerged.
That Storyline came from Tucker Carlson. In fact, the Storyline which emerged from Carlson was much more like a self-published true crime / horror novel.
The transcript of the bulk of Carlson's opening monologue can be reviewed right here. To its credit, Fox News was at least willing to publish a record of (most of) what its TV star said—and the transcript carries these headlines:
TUCKER CARLSON: This is the beginning of the end for Biden
Tucker reacts to Biden allegedly mishandling documents
In fairness, the headline writer had thrown the word "allegedly" in. Tucker was much less circumspect as he crafted his thrilling red tribe novel.
Leonnig's account of the number of documents provided some comic relief. Other parts of what she said seemed to betray an unattractive acquiescence to instant Storyline.
On yesterday afternoon's Deadline: White House, the clowning was ugly and stupid. We hope to get to that by the end of the week—but even yesterday's stupid behavior wasn't as striking as the screeching novelization performed by Carlson last Thursday night.
Everywhere President Roosevelt looked, he saw "one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." Everywhere we look today, we see imitations of (journalistic) life.
What we don't see or hear from our own tribe is devotion to various serious topics of a type which actually matter.
You will never see Wallace and her favorite friends discuss the types of events described in this (deeply flawed) report about the public schools of Shaker Heights—about the needs and the interests of the black kids who attend school in that well-known Ohio town.
Yesterday, Wallace pretended to honor Dr. King. In truth, she and her circle of well-heeled friends happily piddled the day away in service to Storyline.
These endless events are all part of A Week in The (Imitation of) Life. Tomorrow, we'll turn to the dumbfounding novel Tucker created on his very strange program that night.
Journalistically speaking, Nicolle Wallace presides over a daily imitation of life. Tucker tends to take things a bit farther, though he does occasionally seem to raise questions which someone might sensibly ask.
Tomorrow: Tucker's imitation of life