Thursday, October 06, 2011


Dr X, a psychiatrist, had a brief post after this video of Rumsfeld discussing the nature of Rumsfeld's attitude towards the interviewer. Watch the video. It's cringe-worthy.

My husband who was in the room while I was watching, but couldn't see the computer screen from his vantage point, exclaimed,"Who is that?!" Even he could pick up on the nasty tone of Rumsfeld without knowing who he was, or what the context of the video was.  Rumsfeld is manipulative and downright mean,  objecting not just to the interviewer's questions, but making some pretty nasty personal comments about the interviewer.

It gave me flashbacks to a co-worker with whom I had briefly worked.  We had been thrown together for a couple of weeks in my last job as a puppeteer/public speaker at elementary schools.  I was taking the position of her former partner in the next year and was merely filling in the last few weeks of the current year.  During our program there were specific points at which each of us were responsible for addressing the audience and either introducing the program, or concluding it. Each time I would be in the midst of my concluding presentation, she would interject things out of the blue.  It was very distracting to me, especially because there was no rhyme or reason to it.  She never interjected at the same point in the presentation, and she never said the same thing.  It kept me off-kilter.

After we concluded one of the shows, in which she really threw me off and I stood there dumbly for a moment trying to remember where I was, I tried to explain to her that I was having a hard time keeping track of things when she interjected.  I had switched parts from the time I had previously performed in this position and all of the material was new to me.  I wasn't quite comfortable enough with the new material to easily get back on track if I got distracted.

I tried to make it sound as if it were my problem and I needed her help with it.

What happened next was quite similar to that Rumsfeld video.  You would have thought that I killed her dog.  There I stood, in the middle of a school cafeteria, with this lady going on and on about me and how I was so confrontational and she couldn't work with people like me and she didn't want to hear anything I had to say and she was "done" and on and on and on.

It was the most bizarre experience and baffling personal interaction I had ever had.

She took my request and made it into a personal attack and then raised her voice at me, slandered me, and accused me of all the things she was doing to me.

This all occurred between two performances.  She stormed off while I tried to assure the school counselor that everything was fine and we would be ready for the next show.  I figured she just needed to cool off.

She came back and we icily performed our second show.

As we packed up, I made the mistake of trying to make peace with her or talk about what had happened.  Worst. Mistake. Ever.

She just moved back into Rumsfeld mode with more personal attacks and over-reaction.

I spent the last two weeks of working with her trying to kill her with kindness and refusing to let her drag me into any more of her crazy-head-space.


JSA said...

I'm no Rumsfeld fan, but the interviewer was a dick, and incompetent to boot. Al Jazeera should hire William Shatner to do interviews.

terri said...


In what way was the interviewer a dick and incompetent?

I'm asking seriously because I don't see that. I see an interviewer who isn't necessarily amenable to Rumsfeld, and who is trying to pry something that he think is important out of him, but I don't see him as being a "dick".

Are you referring to the actual content of the video, or are you familiar with this particular interviewer and are basing your opinion on prior exposure to him?

I partly wondered if that's what Rumsfeld was doing....reacting to the impressions he had in his head or expectations of being treated hostilely and unfairly before he even gave the interview. Has he had some prior history with this guy?

I wonder that, because his reaction seems over-the top to me. At one point he says that the interviewer is yelling at him, but the only one I hear yelling is Rumsfeld.

The question is....if Rumsfeld didn't want to answer these types of questions, or thought Al-Jazeera would naturally be biased, or that this interviewer was going to twist everything....then why the heck is he even there? Why do the interview?

It strikes me as very bizarre.

JSA said...

From the very first question shown in the video, the interviewer is aggressively chopping the air and jabbing his right hand while holding a sharp object, tilting his head forward with brow furrowed, and speaking in choppy syllables as if he's already made up his mind and is just lecturing a bad child. The body language is just horrible; flexing his shoulders at 0:51, leaning forward aggressively around 1:18, cutting off Rumsfeld in mid-sentence with slicing moves of the hand, etc.

Now, there are only two possibilities I can imagine. One is that the interviewer is ignorant about body language and thought that this was a good way to get the answer he wanted to hear. Obviously, it wasn't a good way, since he didn't get the answer he wanted. If William Shatner can get Rush Limbaugh to cry, but this idiot can't even get Rumsfeld to admit that the troop levels were to small, he's pretty incompetent. And *if* an interviewer is going to use such an aggressive stance, he needs to have done his homework and be prepared to return any volley. When Rumsfeld claimed that nobody had ever said the troop amounts were too small, that was the perfect opportunity for the interviewer to list off 5 different generals who had complained. If he had done his homework, he would have been able to shut Rumsfeld up and move to the next attack.

An alternate possibility is that the interviewer does understand body language, and was simply trying to provoke Rumsfeld into an angry reaction so that they could have video of Rumsfeld being temperamental. From my reading of Rumsfeld's body language, it looks like he decided that the interviewer was trying to provoke him. So instead of falling into the trap he leans his shoulder backwards, tends to open his hands expansively rather than chopping, and toward the end, lowers his tone of voice like he's soothing a screaming baby. The interviewer's teeth-baring grin comes across as if he's nervous and realizes he didn't get anything he wanted.

That's just my read -- I've never seen an interviewer act like such a dick and get a confession they wanted, but I've seen all sorts of other techniques that work. The Al Jazeera guy seems like an amateur.

terri said...

Interesting. You seemed to have focused in on the body language while all I "see"/hear is the tone. THe way Rumsfeld is talking, the condescending, accusatory tone, the lengthening of certain words and his choice of words.

I followed the link to the youtube page and the comments there were incendiary, mostly against Rumsfeld. However, every once in a while a pro-Rumsfeld comment showed up, and talked about him in such a glowing way, praising the way he handled the disrespectful interviewer, etc. that it was like getting reports from two wholly different incidents.

Do you think that the body language issue might be cultural? In other words, the staccato, aggressive manner you see might be more normative for the interviewer and his cultural background?

JSA said...

Yeah, Rumsfeld always has a sort of sneering or even whining tone, even when talking to people he agrees with. If I were listening to the voice only, I certainly wouldn't have reacted so negatively to the interviewer.

I've worked with a lot of people from middle east, indonesia, etc. and there are some definite cultural influences, but I can tell you that the interviewer would never talk that way with someone he respected. He wouldn't even talk to his wife, who is inferior, that way, unless she had done something bad.

I suspect that the YouTube comments are polarized simply because the nation is so polarized.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I had not read JSA's comments before I wrote mine over at Dr. X's, which I copy here. "I am disagreeing. The journalist is very politely making very nasty accusations that he can't back up. Weaselly. That is the initial context in which Rumsfeld gets irritated, then spiteful. Specifically, the interviewer makes the repeated claim that the coalition forces were equally responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians because they didn't bring enough people to stop the killers. Yeah, sure, that holds up logically.

So right off the bat, the watcher of the video should be alerted to the fact that the interviewer isn't going to ask honest questions and fight fair. Rumsfeld isn't handling it well - he is losing his temper because he can't control the direction of the conversation. He's supposed to be experienced with this sort of thing and be ready for it, so I fault him for that. But he didn't start the fire.

Your claim about clinicians and conversational maneuvers carries a strong implication that there is something unbalanced, unfair, or sick about Rumsfeld's speech. I've been doing this for over thirty years and Ihave never heard professionals have that sort of conversation except in the context of a "partisan beatdown." I'm seeing Rumsfeld losing his temper and getting progressively ruder, but I'm not seeing more than that."

I admit, some of that is off-topic from your post. I think the key is whether one thinks that the interviewer is asking fair questions, or asking questions fairly. After your presentation, you made a reasonable request, but someone went off on you. But what if you had made an unreasonable request, or made it with sly rudeness? The other woman might bear some responsibility for keeping her temper, but wouldn't her actions be more justifiable in that instance?

terri said...


I meant to come back to this earlier.

I will agree with your assessment except for one thing:

The interviewer doesn't owe respect to the interviewee. We shouldn't expect an interviewer to interact with an interviewee the way that he would with a boss, or a wife, or a respected elder. That's not the nature of journalistic interviews about contentious issues in any country or culture. Politicians know, or should know, that any interview is a potential minefield and that the interviewer is not just there to have a nice chat.

From that perspective, the whole "respect" idea doesn't hold water for me.

I did have the same thoughts about the interviewer not being prepared to follow up in Rumsfeld's assertions, but I didn't know for sure if Rumsfeld was wrong. That's the type of thing that a good journalist should already know beforehand. If you're going to make a factual, verifiable claim, then you should know everything inside and out.


I'll leave the discussion about clinical observations between you and Dr. X! :-)

I don't think I want to get between the two of you in that conversation.

I will say that reading psychiatrist's blogs make one wonder is they are analyzing one's comments in the same way they analyze other people's interviews or books!

I recall that recently you implied that Rob Bell's "reading into the white" had some sort of clinical implications with respect to Rorschach tests. I don't know that I think that's any different than what Dr. X is doing with Rumsfeld....reading possible psychological implications into a brief instance or example.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Fair enough. I do note a difference that I am making a specific claim and limiting clearly what I am interpreting from it - and what I am not.

The more I have thought about this, the more I think one's perception does come down to the snap judgment one makes after hearing the interviewer make the assertion that the US is as guilty of the deaths as the bombers and torturers. If you react to that immediately as a horrifying thought, equivalent to accusing MLK Jr of creating the police violence against protestors, or Sophie's Choice being a killing of one's child, the Rumsfeld's response doesn't seem that bad.

But if, by initial antipathy to the watr or to Rumsfeld, one misses that and thinks that's a semi-reasonable point, only a little slanted, then Rumsfeld's response seems out of proportion and mean.

I am in the former group. When I heard the question my glance hardened, and I thought of all the civil rights/Stalinist/Great Leap Forward blaming of others for one's own sins. At those moments, I debate whether it is not even dishonest of me to answer such things politely, so horrifying is the moral reasoning behind it.

JSA said...

@Terri - Yeah, I don't think Rumsfeld has a right to be treated with respect. I was basing my assessment purely on the effectiveness or competence of the interviewer. Overtly signalling disrespect probably wasn't a great way to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish.