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February 24, 2011

Jon Stewart Tries To Trap Don Rumsfeld By Showing How Smart He Is And Fails Miserably

I’ve already done one “Donald Rumsfeld makes liberal look stupid” post and I guess I could do one a day for however long Rumsfeld’s book tour lasts. I wasn’t planning on that but last night’s Daily Show interview nicely encapsulates so much of what’s wrong with the media in particular but liberals in general.

First, here’s the video (if you just want to skip to the main part I’m going to discuss, go to the second part of the interview. Also, I’m only basing my comments are the edit that aired, not the full video)

Mostly Rumsfeld “wins” the interview by being charming and not the blood thirsty monster I imagine most Daily Show viewers imagined him to be. But his real strength here is he mostly just lets Stewart flounder around by occasional interjecting a brief and polite disagreement with Stewart’s premise. Stewart lets himself be sucked into Rumsfeld’s brier patch and the game is over.

Stewart actually tried his best to take the clown nose off at first. Starting with Rumsfeld’s quote about the dangers of mixing power and certainty is a reasonable starting point for the liberal critique of Bush/Rumsfeld/Iraq (not saying I agree with it, just looking at it from the outside). The problem begins when Stewart thinks he can box with Rumsfeld…he can’t. Rumsfeld has been doing this longer than Stewart has been alive and Stewart isn’t in the top 1,000 of toughest people Rumsfeld’s dealt with.

Stewart actually had a good question (again from the liberal)…why didn’t we see the doubt publicly that Rumsfeld claims (and documents) was present behind the scenes? The problem is, he never asks the question in that straight forward way. He lets Rumsfeld derail him over the word “sell” vs. “present” and a bunch of other minor quibbles. Stewart was so busy trying to figure out how to ask the perfect, legalistically inescapable question that would land banner headlines for him and possibly Rumsfeld in jail that he never just puts the question plainly to Rumsfeld.

One of the first things you need to remember when doing an interview is…it’s not about you the interviewer. It’s about getting an answer. Too often reporters and talk show hosts want to be the star and the smartest person in the room. They forget that being well informed and prepared while acting dumb (actually not so much dumb as just curious) can be a powerful weapon.

Stewart, along with “reporters” like Andrea Mitchell, also don’t just want an answer…they want the answer they think they should get, the one that will confirm their worldview and solidify their place in the media universe. That’s a tall order under the best of circumstances.



Stewart got Rumsfeld to talk about a memo he authored that listed a “Parade of Horribles” that could follow an invasion of Iraq (it included things like no WMDs and a long war). If Stewart had just asked, “Why didn’t the public get to see that memo or hear from you and the President what you thought might go wrong?” he might have gotten an answer. Instead, Stewart puts the clown nose on, tries to drop a few names and generally show off. He never simply asks the question.

Now, Rumsfeld wasn’t going to give him an answer he would have liked. My guess is the answer would have been something like, “The President did talk about the danger and uncertainty of war, though not necessarily these things specifically. The Congress debated the matter before authorizing force. They are smart folks, I’m sure they had the same list of “possible horrible” and in fact many of them were part of the public debate. When you are laying out a course of action for the country on an undertaking as monumental as war, you can’t layout every conceivable thing that might go wrong. You consider them, you prepare for them but in the end, you deal with what you know, or think you know, not what you don’t know, hence the title of my book…..”

Something like that is an adult answer that serious people get. Stewart didn’t want that. He wanted to be coy and clever but mostly he wanted to trap Rumsfeld. Jon…you ain’t smart enough for that. More importantly, Stewart simply can’t accept that Rumsfeld and Bush didn’t think and do the things Stewart and liberals are so sure they did. As Ronald Reagan said, “the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.

Underlying all of Stewart’s arguments is that Americans didn’t want to go to war in Iraq. He concedes that after 9/11 the country didn’t need to be convinced about the need for war in Afghanistan but maintains that they had to be sold on Iraq. Rumsfeld admits this to a point (not the word “sell”). Here’s the thing that always seems to get lost…we had to go into Afghanistan after 9/11 because no one wanted to do it in 96, 97, 98, 99, or 2000. It would have required “selling” people on the potential dangers, known and unknown. In hindsight, it would have been better if we had. Post 9/11 we couldn’t wait to see if Iraq would step up from harassing our planes enforcing the “No-Fly Zone” to something like what we saw in New York City, DC and Pennsylvania. That’s one of the main links between 9/11 and the Iraq war. Liberals never want to admit the legitimacy of that argument. Why? Well, who was President while Al Qaeda was using Afghanistan as a giant basic training camp? Yeah. Imagine for a moment George W. Bush was elected in 2000, there was no 9/11 and he’s reelected in 04 but on 9/11/06 Al Qaeda pulls off the same attacks. Do you think Democrats would be screaming about why Bush didn’t invade Afghanistan sooner and prevent it? I do.

We’ll never know if invading Iraq prevented an even worse attack later (or maybe even led to the events we are seeing today). To paraphrase Rumsfeld himself, there are just some unknowable unknowns and every decision is based on imperfect and incomplete information. That’s the kind of thing adults understand. Sadly, Jon Stewart and liberals in general don’t seem to get it and they likely never will.

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posted by DrewM. at 02:28 PM

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