Donald Rumsfeld's No Good, Very Bad Book Tour

Booed at CPAC, scolded by Jon Stewart, and accused of being a lizard by Louis C.K.--what else could go wrong on Donald Rumsfeld's book tour?

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Earlier this month, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld published a memoir. But tell-all-political books don't sell themselves, so he has been earnestly schilling for Known and Unknown everywhere he can, subjecting himself to interviews he would never have gone while serving in the Pentagon:  Yesterday, the tour reached a new apex of absurdity when comedian Louis CK, sitting in on the drive-time syndicated radio show Opie & Anthony, asked Rumsfeld: "I don't know if anyone's ever asked you directly, but are you a lizard?"

It's just been one of those months for Rumsfeld. (He gave a non-answer to the lizard question: "I'm in New York City, I walk down the street, people walk up, shake hands, stop me, they want an autograph.") After retreating to a life of quasi-isolation in New Mexico and Maryland, Rumsfeld's return to the public eye has been a bit bumpier than his former boss President Bush, who used last year's Decision Points book tour to repair and soften his public image, Rumsfeld has reemerged in thoroughly Rumsfeldian fashion. As comebacks go, it's just strange enough to make you wish he'd stick around, or maybe just remind you why he left in the first place. After 

February 6: On Super Bowl Sunday, Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times interviewed Rumsfeld about the book over lunch at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. When the conversation became strained, Rachman asked the man who once said "no terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq" which team he'd like to see win the big game. Anyone but the Oakland Raiders, said Rumsfeld. Why? Because the Raiders are an "evil" football team. Not dirty, not cocky, not a roving band of bad eggs and misfits--just plain evil. And they weren't even playing!

February 7: Rumsfeld appeared on ABC's Nightline with Diane Sawyer for his first television interview since 2006. The next morning, George Stephanopoulos talked with him live on Good Morning America. Even The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes--a Rumsfeld defender--concedes the live shot "wasn't pretty," with "the interview quickly [becoming] an argument" between journalist and politician. On both shows, Rumsfeld ducked the question of whether his decision to reduce troop levels in Iraq prolonged the war, telling Sawyer "it's hard to know" whether more boots on the ground would have helped stabilize the country. Hours after the interview, Stephanopoulos posted a tough assessment of the former Secretary of Defense's performance on his ABC News blog. "I’m convinced that he's guided by a simple mantra: 'I’m not McNamara,'" Stephanopoulos writes. "[Rumsfeld] doesn’t believe Iraq is Vietnam. And even if he does believe that his personal mistakes prolonged the war and increased its costs he won’t appease his critics by giving them what they most want."

February 8

The book has only been out for a day, but the negative reviews are already piling up. The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani called it "tedious [and] self-serving." Writing in The Washington Post, Gwen Ifill said the tone was an uneasy mixture of "setting the record straight and doggedly knocking enemies off pedestals." The toughest notice came from Slate's Fred Kaplan, who argued the text "stands to mark Rumsfeld as not only the most destructive secretary of defense in American history....but also the most mendacious political memoirist."

February 9
Seven protesters show up in Philadelphia on the first night of Rumsfeld's book tour. By the end of the night, writes the Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch, it was the people inside the National Constitution Center who were fed up with him. "Known, after Rumsfeld's talk? The minute details of the time that Sammy Davis Jr. took him and his wife backstage at a Las Vegas nightspot to meet Elvis Presley. Not known? Anything new about the torture scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison that damaged America's reputation. That subject never even came up." For 70 minutes, Rumsfeld made "it feel like 2003 all over again." And not in a good way.

February 10
A day after boring them stiff in Philly, Rumsfeld appeared with Dick Cheney before an allegedly friendly audience at CPAC in Washington. The reunion went off the rails when the sight of two of the primary architects of the Bush Doctrine prompted jeers of "Where's Bin Laden?" from Ron Paul supporters. They also really weren't happy about Rumsfeld receiving a "Defender of the Constitution" award.

February 23
On The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart jabbed repeatedly at Rumsfeld for his perceived "dismissiveness" and "certainty bordering on arrogance" while Secretary of Defense. He blamed Rumsfeld for helping "sell" the Iraq War to the public. Rather than pushing back, Rumsfeld appeared "jovial" and "unfazed by the entire procedure," says Mediaite's Colby Hall. But will a jovial Don Rumsfeld move any books? Stewart seemed worried the interview wasn't measuring up to Rumsfeld's usual standards of combativeness. "I feel like we're just sitting on a porch now sipping lemonade," he declared.

February 24:  On The View, Barbara Walters asks Rumsfeld if he'd like to apologize to the family members of soldiers killer in Iraq. Twice. Rumsfeld declined: "The implication of that would be unfortunate," he explains.

Shockingly, this was not the most awkward media encounter of Rumsfeld's day. For some reason he appeared as a guest on The Opie and Anthony Show. Joining the shock jocks in the studio was comedian Louis C.K., who started introduced his lizard question like this: "There are still those people out there who thinkthat, you know, Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are actually lizards... from outer space who eat human flesh." And because Donald Rumsfeld is Donald Rumsfeld, he answers with an anecdote about New York City restaurants.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.