During a discussion with 2014 Nieman Fellow Anna Fifield, right, at the Nieman Foundation, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris said that Donald Rumsfeld, the subject of his new film “The Unknown Known,” suffers from “irony deficit disorder.” Photo by Jonathan Seitz

Before coming to the Nieman Foundation on November 13, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris tweeted that he was going to discuss "the New New Journalism: Speaking Power to Truth," by which he meant a tendency of some media outlets, including The New York Times in the lead-up to the Iraq War, to believe in the statements of government officials even if there is no evidence to support them. It’s a theme Morris explores in his new film, "The Unknown Known," about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the case for war with Iraq. In the film, Rumsfeld reads aloud from some of the thousands of memos he wrote during his time as secretary of defense and demonstrates what Morris calls "irony deficit disorder." At one point Rumsfeld says of Saddam Hussein, "In the end he became all pretend," apparently without any awareness of how that statement contradicts the statements used to justify the invasion. The film echoes in many ways Morris’s 2003 documentary "The Fog of War" about Robert McNamara, secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968 during the Vietnam War. Rumsfeld hated that movie, Morris says, telling the filmmaker, "That man has nothing to apologize for."

Morris was in conversation with 2014 Nieman Fellow Anna Fifield, correspondent for the Financial Times. Excerpts of their discussion along with a complete video and a clip from "The Unknown Known" follow.

Meeting Donald Rumsfeld

The Origins of the Phrase "The Unknown Known"

Comparisons to "The Fog of War"

The Complete Discussion

Clip from "The Unknown Known"

Most popular articles from Nieman Reports

Show comments / Leave a comment