Why Americans Love “No Rhetoric” Rumsfeld

June 5, 2002

by Mary Mostert, Analyst - Banner of Liberty

“Rhetoric,” according to the dictionary, is “the art of using words in speaking or writing so as to persuade or influence others.” It is often referred to today as “politically correct” comments or writing, and is an art form that was very much the order of the day during the Clinton Administration. The media, especially the Washington Press Corps, really loved the Clinton rhetoric and praised his “brilliance” as a leader.

The exact opposite of rhetoric is a conversation with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Any reporter or member of the public who thinks that Donald Rumsfeld is trying to persuade or influence you with his responses must be brain dead. He is so non-rhetorical that, before 9-11, the press corps had pretty much written him off.

In fact, on September 10, 2001, Brian Wilson of Fox News said: “Is Rumsfeld to be taken seriously? After all, there are rumors swirling in Washington that he might soon quit or be asked to quit.”

Nine months later, the Washington press corps realizes that Donald Rumsfeld is not going to be ousted through the use of their favorite control mechanism - floating rumors that he is going to quit or be fired. Somehow, in that short period of time, Rumsfeld has become the Rock Star of the Bush Administration in the eyes of the public and the man to send to head off nuclear war in the mind of the president.

No one has been more surprised at Donald Rumsfeld’s popularity than the Washington Press Corps and, at least where Rumsfeld is concerned; it is the press corps, not Rumsfeld that has been forced to change. The Washington Press Corps today asks Rumsfeld a lot fewer stupid questions than they did six months ago.

However, the media, as it exists today, is still very much wedded to the notion that news only consists of controversy and, if there is no controversy, there is no story worth reporting. This naturally leads to the kind of news that produces popular, high-paid talking heads on TV - confrontational, accusatory, and entertainment-oriented news shows.

In recent days, the media’s favorite news peg has been an obvious effort to paint the FBI and George W. Bush as somehow having “known” the World Trade Center was about to be bombed, and having done nothing about it.

On May 17th, on CBS’ Today Show, Katie Couric asked Rumsfeld: “Certainly youíve heard about all the controversy, with Dick Gephardt asking what the president knew and when he knew it. Many newspapers across the country are focused on this story. What is your reaction that the Bush administration perhaps did not act quickly enough or efficaciously enough when it came to warnings that some kind of terrorist attack might occur on this country?

Rumsfeld replied: “Well, I think, when all the dust settles, the American people will know the truth. And the truth is that every day there are numerous threat warnings -- the walk-ins off the street, pieces or scraps of intelligence collected by the FBI, pieces of information that are gathered by the Central Intelligence Agency in one way or another. And they are then looked at and sorted and sifted.

“And what has to be done is to recognize that when youíre all through sifting all of those, some, a very small number, prove to be actionable.”

Rumsfeld ignored the bait; Couric’s attempt to get him to say something derogatory about or in defense of the FBI and the president. Instead, he just laid out the facts and told Couric, and whoever else might be listening, that the American people will make a sensible decision when they have the facts - which he then gave them. She, and the public, could take it or leave it.

In a May 30th press briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked by a reporter: “Well, Mr. Secretary, do you think war between those countries (India and Pakistan) can be avoided? Do you see a shift towards a potential nuclear or even a conventional outbreak there?”

Rumsfeld replied: “You know, itís a sensitive subject, and itís almost like the subject of threat warnings. Almost anything anyone says in response to a question, someone will characterize as something other than it is.

I don’t know of any news source that picked up that comment, but it illustrates, in a nutshell, why this blunt government official with a wry sense of humor has become the jewel of the Bush Administration. The American people have come to love Donald Rumsfeld because they trust him to tell the truth. He isn’t trying to use his looks, his smile, his cleverness, and his gift of words to influence you or persuade you. He really doesn’t care, it seems, whether you are persuaded or not.

On May 22, in an interview on PBS, Jim Lehrer, apparently looking for a plot, noted there seemed to be “a pattern” in Rumsfeld’s comments before a Senate hearing and comments made about the same time by Vice-President Cheney and FBI Director Mueller. He asked, “What’s going on? Are all these things a part of a pattern?”

Rumsfeld responded: “Well, the vice president was on "Meet the Press" and asked a question by Tim Russert, and he answered it. I was before a Senate Committee and was asked a question by Senator Inouye, and I answered it. There is no pattern. Itís just the truth. The truth is that there were hundred of terrorists trained very well in al-Qaeda training camps, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They are around the world in forty or fifty countries. They have money. They are skillful at what they do, as we saw on September 11.

“We know they have been actively seeking out weapons of mass destruction, and we know that they have close relationships with terrorist countries that have those weapons. So if Iím asked that question, I didnít answer that question any differently for Senator Inouye in the hearing yesterday than I have answered it every week or two for the past six months.”

The truth. What a novel concept to introduce into politics! Now, if we could only introduce the concept into the Senate and House elections this fall…


Mary Mostert was writing professionally on political issues as a teen-ager in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1940s. In the 1960s, she wrote a weekly column for the Rochester Times Union, a Gannett paper and was one of 52 American women who attended the 17 Nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland to ban testing of nuclear bombs in the atmosphere. She was a licensed building contractor for 29 years, as she raised her six children. She served an 18 month mission as Public Affairs Director for the Africa Area for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1990-91. In the 1990s she wrote a book, Coming Home, Families Can Stop the Unraveling of America, edited the Reagan Monthly Monitor and talk show host Michael Reagan’s Information Interchange for seven years. She now operates the website, Banner of Liberty.

Send the author an E mail at Mostert@ConservativeTruth.org.

For more of Mary's articles, visit her archives.

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