By Mick Krever, CNN
As the Bush Administration was drumming up momentum for its war with Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went before a Pentagon press conference and uttered some now-notorious words.
“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, there are some things we know we do not know.”
“But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
A bit of impromptu philosophy? It is the context, says filmmaker Errol Morris, that reveals the slippery nature of the character involved.
“That reply in a Pentagon press conference came in response to a very specific question from Jim Miklaszewski, the NBC News Pentagon correspondent,” Morris told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Friday.
“He asked Donald Rumsfeld, ‘What evidence’ – he used the E word – ‘what evidence do you have for the presence of WMD in Iraq?’”
His “gobbledygook non-answer” to a “direct and very important question” says much of what you need to know about Rumsfeld, according to Morris.
So much so that he has named his new film about the former Secretary of Defense after yet another version of that very phrase – “The Unknown known.”
Morris interviewed Rumsfeld for 33 hours in an attempt to reveal a depth, a peek behind the curtain, into the highly controversial figure.
“What constantly amazed me is: Here is a man who has a central role in the history of our time, and who doesn't seem to be on any deep level engaged by that history.”
“Is that possible? That’s the mystery at the heart of ‘The Unknown Known’ – can someone be this powerful in a position of such importance and yet not get it, period?”
Morris, Amanpour said, “obviously come at Donald Rumsfeld with a very strong political view.”
Did he think Rumsfeld got a fair hearing?
“The view which to be sure I had going into the interviews was changed by the interviews,” Morris said.
“Do I feel I was fair? I make these movies because at heart I'm an investigator. I want to learn something I didn't know going into it or why bother. And I did.”
“Everybody wants to imagine that someone is in control – and I was left with an appalling image of a man interested in selling something but not really clear about what he was selling.”
Morris described Rumsfeld as “a man so glib and possibly so shallow as to be frightening. I call it a horror movie and it's the best description of this movie I've been able to come up with.”
Morris has made a name for himself through deep investigative films like The Thin Blue Line, about a man serving time for a murder he did not commit, and The Fog of War, about another highly controversial U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, who presided over the Vietnam War.
The two “couldn't be more different,” said Morris.
The Fog of War was widely seen as absolution for a man vilified over his role in Vietnam – McNamara broke down in tears in the film, which won an Academy Award for best picture.
McNamara was “deeply reflective” and “in agony” over his role in Vietnam.
Rumsfeld, by contrast, was “absolutely unreflective, unapologetic – convinced of his own correctness, his rectitude. A man ultimately extraordinarily pleased with himself.”