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.


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.

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