On NPR Stations, Business Anchor Demands Rumsfeld Apologize for Bush Policies, Compares Iraq to Vietnam

“Marketplace” is a popular nightly public-radio business newscast distributed on hundreds of NPR stations by Public Radio International. But the anchor, Kai Ryssdal, wasn’t about to interview former Bush defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld without demanding apologies for the "Bush wars" in a book interview for “Rumsfeld’s Rules.”

Forget the business-show rules. It was Bush-bashing time. Ryssdal began: “Let’s start with this one. It’s easier to get into something, you say, than get out. And I can’t help but wonder where we would be in this country today if you guys had been thinking of this one ten years ago.”

When Rumsfeld he came to the realize in the Reagan years that the U.S. wasn’t armed and equipped to do nation-building, Ryssdal interrupted in mid-sentence:

RYSSDAL: Hang on a minute. I can’t believe these words are coming out of your mouth ten years later. So this was on your mind as Iraq was burbling up?
RUMSFELD: Absolutely
RYSSDAL: And yet here we are.

Rumsfeld tried to explain his view that a rather small force accomplished the intial mission of deposing Saddam Hussein’s government, but that the Department of Defense wasn’t a nation-building agency. Ryssdal jumped in again:

RYSSDAL: I will do you a favor, Mr. Secretary. Uh, assuming you’re not trying to shift any responsibility here.
RUMSFELD: Well, I’m not. It’s just reality.

Other agencies of the government had to get involved if nation-building was involved. Ryssdal kept up the dismissive tone:

RYSSDAL: And yet the primary critique – and I grant you, and as you know, there have been many – the primary critique of the Bush administration in Iraq is that you guys went in without a plan to get out. And here we’re now having a conversation where you say [flippant tone], ‘Yeah, I was thinking about all this stuff, but we went in anyway.’

Rumsfeld said he expressed his reservations about the potential setbacks in Iraq – recommending a “Parade of Horribles” memo he wrote. He said “It’s not easy for countries to evolve and grow, but I think both of those countries are a whale of a lot better off today than they were before.”

Rumsfeld hinted that this wasn’t exactly a “Marketplace” interview, and Ryssdal shot back:  You appreciate that you can’t have a conversation with Donald Rumsfeld about the rules he lives by without talking about these things, right?” Rumsfeld said “Sure.”

He didn’t have to say that. If Barack Obama granted an interview to Ryssdal, would he have to face snotty interruptions about "you guys" bungling things? No.


Then came the apology-demand section. Ryssdal asked Rumsfeld to look back and defend his record as secretary of defense under Bush. Rumsfeld suggested that for all the aggressive criticism Bush has received for Iraq and Afghanistan, history “may not sort out that way.”

Ryssdal replied, “Others obviously disagree, and that’s a conversation well beyond the scope of this interview and this broadcast,” which sounds like he was now rebutting himself.

He didn’t really mean that. He compared Iraq to Vietnam: “But I do wonder whether you read Robert McNamara’s memoirs when they came out – obviously, the secretary of defense in Vietnam.” Rumsfeld said no, but he served in Congress at that time. Then came this exchange:

RYSSDAL: Here’s why I ask: that was, that book was widely seen as an apology for his role in Vietnam, and I looked in this book pretty hard for any rule you might have had about apologizing, and I couldn’t find one.
RUMSFELD: And? What’s your question.
RYSSDAL: Did you ever think about apologizing?

Rumsfeld then went into a typical discourse on how he was like Napoleon, who said “I’ve been mistaken so many times, I don’t even blush for it anymore.” Ryssdal wanted a McNamara-sized helping of liberal-pleasing guilt and remorse.

Commenters on the Marketplace website broke along ideological lines: "Congratulations Kai- you make it even harder for me to listen to NPR after hearing your 'balanced' interview with Rumsfeld. I guess I'll have to keep searching to find reporting where it's not necessary to factor in the station's political agenda."

From the Left: "Kai Ryssdal's interview was brilliant, completely exposing Rumsfeld for who he is--an unconscious hypocrite and a narcissist."

PS: On March 20, 2012, Ryssdal interviewed Obama on energy at a solar energy facility for 12 minutes – and took almost five minutes to ask him about Solyndra. Obama blamed China and the Congress for 82 seconds without Ryssdal interrupting about blame-shifting.

He asked about Obama not reaching his goal of 5 million new green-energy jobs, and Obama argued “this thing interceded called The Great Recession.” He spoke for 35 seconds without being interrupted. Obama also unfurled an uninterupted two-minute answer on unemployment.

In minute nine, Ryssdal could only muster this question about Obama’s potential Republican rivals -- um, "close the sale," sir:

“Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum made the case that their platforms of economic freedom are the way to go. They say you’re not doing enough, haven’t been doing enough. You’re shaking your head, but you know, you know what they’re saying. The question is, uh, make – close the sale, right? Because you keeping your job in November is depending on whether people feel you did it or you didn’t as you promised three and a half years ago.”

Obama then spoke for another two minutes attacking the Republicans' "on-your-own" economics without interruption, until it was over.

Earlier: Kai Ryssdal, 'Marketplace' Whitewash Alinsky, Deny Gingrich Comparing Him to Obama

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis