Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Rumsfeld Interviews

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been doing the book circuit to sell his new memoir, Known and Unknown, and made a stop along the way to The Daily Show for a sit down interview with Jon Stewart.

I knew I wouldn't be home in time, so I recorded it and watched it the next day. And I have to say that initially I was disappointed. I had hoped Stewart would be a little more forceful with Rumsfeld and a little less deferential. It was incredibly frustrating listening to Rumsfeld's hemming and hawing about an exact word or phrasing of a question before answering it. And doubly frustrating to have Stewart stop, take a moment to regroup and rephrase in order to get through to an attempt at an answer.

But after letting it sit for a couple of days, I watched the complete, unedited interview posted on Comedy Central and have changed my mind about my overall take. I watched and listened intently to the questions and answers and I have to give Stewart credit for A) asking some tough questions and B) being incredibly patient under the circumstances. In hindsight, I'm glad that it was a serious interview and there wasn't crosstalk that you might find in, oh, I don't know, an Obama/Bill O'Reilly interview. Showing respect while disagreeing with someone is much harder than blustering over an answer you don't want to hear, and that's the last thing I want to see from a Stewart interview.

I also have to give credit to Donald Rumsfeld for having the guts to go out and expose himself. Yes, I know he's doing it to sell books, but kudos for not taking the safe route and remaining in friendlier confines like Sean Hannity's studio or Fox and Friends. And although some, including myself, may not like his answers, at least he's not in hiding like his incurious, lazy former boss. I also came to the realization that the reason Rumsfeld would object to certain ways questions were framed was because he's conditioned himself over his incredibly long career to prevent from falling into "gotcha" traps, whether it's a soundbite trap or not. He's not going to answer a question that, in his mind, he doesn't think is fairly phrased.

My overall opinion is that Rumsfeld, although taking responsibility as he must in his former position, is still too easily passing the buck on the faulty intelligence on which they relied. And while history shows that there was a run up to the Iraq War that, as Stewart says, was "arrogant in it's certainty," I think he sincerely believes that the decisions made weren't in haste, that there was a lot of effort of forethought, but he can't connect the forethought with the lack of followthrough as a mistake.

Here's the entire interview. You can judge for yourself.

Here, on the other hand, is Rumsfeld calling in to the Opie and Anthony Show to whore his book. Comedian Louis C.K. (one of my favorites) is a guest host (my assumption) and throws respect out the window immediately, asking Rumsfeld about the rumors that he and Dick Cheney are "alien lizards who eat human flesh" and would he take the opportunity now to deny that. He also asked, "How many guys do you think you've met that have died by hanging?"

Through it all, Rumsfeld kept a good natured sense, but he deserved this kind of treatment for being naive enough to go on this particular radio show. Some appearances aren't worth it and if I were him, I would fire his agent or publicist. Enjoy!


willis said...

I'll skip the second interview but appreciate your incite into the first. I thought Stewart did a pretty good job but found Rumsfeld sealing himself in "unknowns" of the time enough to be disingenuous. I still think they knew they didn't have a case for invasion and sold it to congress and us contrary to facts (particularly in light pre-Iraq PNAC quotes).
The whole bunch of `em should be on trial.

Broadway Carl said...

I completely agree, Willis. But I also believe that Rumsfeld has convinced himself and sincerely believes what he says.

I once had a job that I hated but I needed it at the time. Whenever something went wrong, which was often, I'd grit my teeth and repeat, "I love my job" over and over and over again. By the end of the day, I had convinced myself that I actually did like it there. I think Rumsfeld has fallen into the same trap and actually believes his own bullshit.