Known Knowns, Known Unknowns And Unknown Unknowns: A Retrospective
In American politics, there are certain rhetorical legacies that its characters leave behind -- "Ask not what your country can do for you…" "I did not have sexual relations with that woman…" you know the drill. In the wake of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, there is one quote that everyone seems to be recalling today:
"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 we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."Even the president recalled it with a chuckle as he announced the nomination of Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld: "Don once famously said, 'There are known knowns; there are known unknowns; and there are unknown unknowns,'" said Bush. "Well, Mr. Secretary, here is a known known: Your service has made America stronger, and made America a safer nation. You will be missed, and I wish you and Joyce all the best in the years to come."
Recollection of everyone's favorite Rumsfeldism is clearly not lost on anyone who's covering Rumsfeld's departure. It received top billing in the many "Rumsfeld: In His Own Words" retrospectives that are online and in newspapers today -- The BBC's, The Chicago Tribune's,
The Boston Globe's.
CNN counts the quote among the many reasons Rumsfeld was "such a divisive figure."
"Is the country going to miss the way [Rumsfeld] acted smarter than everyone else and often preempted media questions by interrogating himself as a rhetorical device? Sort of -- the way you might miss your father's spankings," writes The Washington Post's Linton Weeks today, invoking the quote, lovingly, as "the time he spoke of the precariousness of the contemporary world."
Perhaps NPR played it best this morning by not only including what pretty much no one else did, the context of Rumsfeld's now-infamous statement ("Rumsfeld was suggesting that Iraq was dangerous to the United States, even if we didn't know of specific evidence.") but noting as well its contribution to the arts. After all, it was set to verse in the poem "The Unknown," part of columnist Hart Seely's collection, "Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld," and later set to music by pianist Bryant Kong, for inclusion in the CD, "The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld."