The known unknown
First the sniper story, now the health care story. The New York Times casts doubts on a staple campaign anecdote of Hillary Clinton.
Donald Rumsfeld famously described the map of our knowledge.
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.
Hillary herself traces the origin of her campaign anecdote to a story told by a deputy sheriff at a meeting. At that point the information was a "known unknown". That's to say, it was unverified information. And had Hillary been so inclined, she could have assigned a staff member to verify the particulars. Find out the woman's name. Interview her relatives, etc. The fact that Hillary Clinton didn't order a fact check may reflect badly on her capabilities as a potential Commander in Chief, because in the future she claims she will be bombarded by calls at 3 a.m., and it bodes ill if she is accustomed to playing fast and loose with facts. But had she been inclined, Hillary could have acted on the "known unknown."
But what tagged her in this case was the emergence of the "unknown unknown". She did not anticipate that the NYT would do investigative pieces on her. This was something she did not anticipate, and therefore did not guard against. And now that her penchant for embellishing, or even inventing facts has become a "known known", every story she ever told about her accomplishments as co-President; every campaign anecdote she ever related has become a potential time bomb.
Barack Obama's earlier trouble over the Jeremiah Wright revelations was much the same thing. For as long as he could assume that his books, campaign speeches and life would be glossed over by an adoring press he was safe. When one particular -- what went on at Trinity Church -- received scrutiny the full extent of his political liability became clear.
But the incidents tell us more than that one candidate embellishes anecdotes while the other associates with racist pastors. The revelations strongly imply there's more we still don't know. Whenever we find a new "known known", it correspondingly creates an implied "known unknown". It's like going into the basement and finding a trickle of water coming from behind the wall. It's what you know you don't know that starts to bother you.
The unknown unknown is how the heck we are going to find out.
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