You don't want to do battle with a guy who commands an army. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was ready – and how! – for an interview question by Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.
When Russert showed a December clip of a soldier complaining about vehicle armor in Iraq and 22 seconds of carefully selected excerpts from the Secretary's answer, including the line, "You go to war with the army you have," Rumsfeld pounced like a coiled cobra.
"That [pointing] was unfair," Rumsfeld said. "And … and it was selectively taking out two sentences from a long exchange – there it is [holding up a highlighted transcript] – that took place. And when you suggested that that's how I answered that question, that is factually wrong. [Russert interrupting, "No, we …"] That is not how I answered that question."
Russert: "But, Mr. Secretary, it clearly represents the exchange, and ..."
Rumsfeld: "It … it … it does not."
Russert: "What, … what …?"
You can't handle the truth!
Rumsfeld: "You want to hear the exchange? There it is. It's right here. I'll read it to you. [Russert stumbling, "I just …"] If you're going to quote pieces of it, I'll give you the exchange."
And he did. Oh, how he did. Rumsfeld read the entire thing – it took a little less than 85 seconds, and Rumsfeld spoke for a newsman-maddening 100 seconds, uninterrupted – to a dumbfounded Russert, finishing with, "Now that answer is totally different than picking out two lines, and I think it's an unfair representative. And it's exactly what some of the newspapers around the country did."
We don't know who the Secretary's media trainers are, but we commend them for anticipating the question and NBC's treatment, and for having Rumsfeld incredibly well-prepared to respond. Other practitioners should do as well.
Too bad the befuddled interviewer wasn't Dan Rather.