Errol Morris on Donald Rumsfeld and The Unknown Known

"We're all morons" says the Oscar-winning filmmaker. And that's just the beginning of our problems.

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Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris' new documentary The Unknown Known, which is a portrait of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was released nationwide on Friday, and so far the film has received generally positive reviews. The New York Times' A.O. Scott calls the movie "a probing and unsettling inquiry into the recent political and military history of the United States," adding that "it is also a bracing and invigorating philosophical skirmish."

On Thursday, Reason TV released Nick Gillespie's extended conversation with Morris about the new film. Click above to watch the interview. Here's the original text:

Donald Rumsfeld's "war crime," says Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris, is "the gobbledygook, the blizzard of words, the misdirections, the evasions…and ultimately at the heart of it all…the disregard and devaluation of evidence."

The former secretary of defense's complicated relationship with the truth is the subject of Morris' new documentary, The Unknown Knownwhich opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, April 4. The Unknown Known is an extended conversation with Rumsfeld, tracing his long career through the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush administrations, and focusing on his role in leading U.S. military forces into Iraq to fight a bloody and senseless war.

In the film, Morris engages in a verbal sparring session with Rumsfeld in an effort to break through the linguistic "evasions" and "gobbledygook" for which he's known.

Donald Rumsfeld in THE UNKOWN KNOWN ||| credit: Nubar Alexanian.
credit: Nubar Alexanian.

The title of the film comes from Rumsfeld's response to a question by NBC reporter Jim Miklaszewski at a Pentagon news conference on February 12, 2002. When Miklaszewski asked Rumsfeld if there was any evidence that Iraq was supplying terrorists with weapons, Rumsfeld replied:

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know.

In a four-part series in The New York Times titled "The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld," Morris wrote: "Many people believe Rumsfeld's reply was brilliant. I think otherwise."

The Unknown Known is Errol Morris' 10th documentary feature. He's also the author of two

The Unknown Known |||

best-selling books and the director of over 1,000 TV commercials. Much of Morris' work explores, as he puts it, "how people prefer untruth to truth" and how they're "blinded by their own spurious convictions."

Reason TV's Nick Gillespie sat down for an extended chat with Morris about The Unknown Known. They discussed, among other things, the difference between Rumsfeld and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, whose complicated relationship with his own mistakes is the subject of Morris' Oscar-winning film, The Fog of War; Morris' take on the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case, which was the subject of his book, A Wilderness of Error; how Obama compares to Bush; his friendships with Roger Ebert and Werner Herzog; and why "we're all morons."

Gillespie conducted the interview using an "interrotron," a device Morris invented, which projects an interviewer's face over the camera lens. It creates the impression that the subject is looking directly into the eyes of the viewer.

About 41 minutes.

Shot and edited by Jim Epstein.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

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    1. Do you think the No Justice, No Peace types will think it through if they come after people in a CCW state?

      1. More SYG fodder if that happens (despite the fact that the Zimmerman case didn’t involve SYG).

    2. The downside of Florida’s Sunshine Laws, I suppose. Normally, it’s good to let the people know what the government is doing, but not when it outs average citizens who were conscripted into the justice system, doing God’s work in some of the most biased courts in America.

      1. “Well, on the one hand the prosecution’s case has a few holes, but on the other hand I have a family and a job, and I’m alive…wouldn’t want to jeopardize any of these things…”

  1. Poland capitulates to Religious Right, grants special religious exemptions in violation of the separation of Church and State. /sarc

    “The Sejm [parliament] did the right thing by clarifying the murky legal situation of kosher slaughter in Poland and by backing shechita for local communities’ consumption,” World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer said. “We hope this statement will help to put to rest the controversy over shechita ? which Jews hold to be a crucial religious freedom.”…

    “Other European nations considering banning shechita should take Poland as their example, [European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor] said.”

    http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-Wo…..and-347469

  2. David Gregory is obsessed by the spectre of corruption.

    OMFG TEH MUNNY MONSTERZ!

    Each dollar contributed to a political campaign counts as a vote in the ballot box. I must have been absent that day in Civics class.

    1. Does he ignore the elephant in the room, namely that money in politics can only be monstrous if politicians wield enough power to justify investment?

      Or is he really just complaining that the lots of money is being given to the wrong people for the wrong reasons?

    2. Corruption… that’s like when someone gets away with the crime because they’re big and importanty and have a show on tv, right?

      1. David Gregory got the media power to get away with crimes because the market says so. The market saying others get more $$ than you is unfair.

  3. Yawwwwnnn.

  4. Or is he really just complaining that the lots of money is being given to the wrong people for the wrong reasons?

    You may be on to something.

    I’m probably just being obtuse, but I don’t see how one person donating a million dollars and casting one vote is electorally more powerful than one thousand people donating one thousand dollars and casting one thousand votes. But political consultants are the Doctor Mesmers of the twentifirst century, so nine hundred of those other people will be induced to alter their votes.

    1. Well, advertisements are so powerful that we ordinary types are powerless to resist them telling us to eat at McDonald’s so clearly people giving big money is going to have unfair influence on elections.

      Obviously such activity needs to be banned. Except for those people who give to the right causes, natch.

  5. SEIU pitches M/W law (since their wages are tied to it); at least the rag interviews some business owners:

    “Minimum-wage measure could make S.F. ballot”
    http://www.sfgate.com/politics…..379511.php

    1. “”This is about lifting up everybody in the community, not just low-wage workers,” said Shaw Sun Liu, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Progressive Workers Alliance. “When low-income people have more money, they will spend it in the community, helping small businesses and everybody.”

      We all know that it is proven by scientific consensus that low wage people never shop at Wal-mart.

      1. She’s right that it won’t just affect low-wage workers and one of the business owners made the same point.
        He pretty much suggested managers will lose jobs too, since their wages will have to increase along with those who work for them.
        Yep, a good way to increase unemployment at many levels!

  6. For want of a nail, or in this case a word . . . .

    “When fewer low-income people have more money, they will spend it in the community, helping small businesses and everybody.”

  7. Krugabe explains it

    The crucial thing to understand about the Affordable Care Act is that it’s a Rube Goldberg device, a complicated way to do something inherently simple. The biggest risk to reform has always been that the scheme would founder on its complexity. And now we know that this won’t happen.

    Remember, giving everyone health insurance doesn’t have to be hard; you can just do it with a government-run program. Not only do many other advanced countries have “single-payer,” government-provided health insurance, but we ourselves have such a program ? Medicare ? for older Americans. If it had been politically possible, extending Medicare to everyone would have been technically easy.

    “It’s quite simple, really. We just need to write more checks.”

    1. The biggest risk to reform has always been that the scheme would founder on its complexity. And now we know that this won’t happen.

      Funny, I thought we had been watching it founder on its own complexity for quite some time now.

      1. We were. It staggered and is slowly righting itself.

        I see the recent panic amongst the GOPers.

        1. Palin’s Buttplug|4.6.14 @ 12:40PM|#
          “It staggered and is slowly righting itself.”

          It’s fucked. Take your propaganda elsewhere, slimy turd.

      2. What are you talking about? Seven million people hit “Submit” on the website, so the program will obviously work for all time.

    2. I wish they would stop lying and calling it Single Payer, millions of taxpayers are not a Single Payer.

  8. I love the way Rumsfeld’s rather frank acknowledgement that our knowledge is limited causes such frothing. His statement is obviously, even trivially, true. Yet somehow it is trotted out as evidence that he is an evil mastermind.

    Perhaps because admitting that knowledge is limited is a blow at the root of the Total State, because it attacks the idea that Top Down leads to better results.

    1. Yeah, as far as it goes that quote is the equivalent of saying “a square has four sides”. It may or may not illuminate anything about what the questioner wanted, but you can’t really claim it is gobbledygook.

      But I suppose if the only answer you would accept is “yeah, you got me! I’m an evil overlord and I’ve been lying so we can kill people” then it does fall short on the forthrightness test.

  9. The Miller High Life commercials that Errol Morris made constituted, in my opinion, the greatest ad campaign ever created.

  10. And, yes, it’s also a big political victory for Democrats. They can point to a system that is already providing vital aid to millions of Americans, and Republicans ? who were planning to run against a debacle ? have nothing to offer in response. And I mean nothing. So far, not one of the supposed Obamacare horror stories featured in attack ads has stood up to scrutiny.

    They are just going to keep repeating the same lies until we surrender, aren’t they?

    1. That’s pretty much the plan, it seems. Oh, and your chocolate ration has been increased, too.

      1. Increased from 6 old ounces to 8 new ounces

    2. They can point to a system that is already providing vital aid to millions of Americans,

      Medicaid expansion is not going to be any kind of political winner for Dems, and that’s where the vast majority of those millions are.

      The really entertaining part will be when (alright, if) the Repubs can track down some folks who lost plans they liked well enough, picked up a new plan on the exchange that they don’t like much, and are getting subsidized.

      There’s your “everybody loses” scenario. The taxpayers lose because they subsidize, and the “beneficiary” loses because they’d rather have their old plan.

      1. I agree that Medicaid expansion won’t help Dems in November.

        In fact, the ACA won’t move the needle for either party in November is my recurring thesis. You most likely agree.

        1. And, likes most theses, is incorrect.

  11. “Donald Rumsfeld’s “war crime,” says Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris, is “the gobbledygook…”

    What difference, at this point, does it make?

    1. Chemical weapons in Fallujah – what difference?

      1. Is there a point somewhere in that?

    2. I was told that if I liked my WMDs, I could keep them.

      Saddam

  12. There’s your “everybody loses” scenario. The taxpayers lose because they subsidize, and the “beneficiary” loses because they’d rather have their old plan.

    And the real cost of medical care continues to soar, due to supply constraints attributable to Obamacare.

    1. Not true. Medical costs have slowed the most in 20 years.

      You want a link?

      1. Palin’s Buttplug|4.6.14 @ 12:35PM|#
        “You want a link?”

        No, we see enough of your lies here.

      2. Oh, so since they are not soaring as much they aren’t actually soaring?

  13. Despite Nick’s best attempt to frame and set-up a question and then get the answer he was hoping to hear, that being that Obama is just as bad and more likely worse than Bush, Morris told him something completely different…than Obama has been saddled with problems from Bush that were going to be very hard to overcome. And yet, according to Morris, we’ve benefitted from Obama being in office.

    Oops!

    1. Nick generally never spares the GOP.

      It is the majority of the posters here who are dishonest Team Red apologists.

      1. See below.

      2. Palin’s Buttplug|4.6.14 @ 1:01PM|#
        “It is the majority of the posters here who are dishonest Team Red apologists.”

        Yes, slimy turd, please show me where I ever defended the GOP.
        Or you can simply admit you’re a lying piece of shit.

      3. As opposed to the token Team Blue apologists?

    2. …”Obama has been saddled with problems from Bush that were going to be very hard to overcome. And yet, according to Morris, we’ve benefitted from Obama being in office.”

      And I’m sure you’re quite stupid enough to swallow that whole.

  14. FYTW

    Many people who didn’t sign up during the government’s open enrollment period that ended Monday will soon find it difficult or impossible to get insured this year, even if they go directly to a private company and money is no object. For some it’s already too late.

    With limited exceptions, insurers are refusing to sell to individuals after the enrollment period for HealthCare.gov and the state marketplaces. They will lock out the young and healthy as well as the sick or injured. Those who want to switch plans also are affected. The next wide-open chance to enroll comes in November for coverage in 2015.

    It’s a little-noted consequence of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which requires nearly all Americans to be insured or pay a fine and requires insurers to accept people with health problems.

    “I have people that can buy insurance, but the companies shut them down. They won’t take the applications,” insurance broker Steve Bobiak of Frackville, Pa., said. “We’re a free country. You should be able to buy anything anytime you want.”

    “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.”

  15. according to Morris, we’ve benefitted from Obama being in office.

    Glug glug glug.

    Wipe your chin.

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  17. “Interrotron” I’ll be Rumsfeld is really bummed that he didn’t come up with that himself.

    1. Damnit, *bet.

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