Three of your last projects feel so very different: former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara discussing Vietnam in The Fog of War; the one-time beauty queen Joyce McKinney explaining why she locked her Mormon love object in chains in Tabloid; and now this book. Is there a common denominator? They're all about the pursuit of truth; about the nature of evidence; about the circumstances under which we can actually ascertain the truth. There are, without a doubt, themes in common among all of these projects — and probably in everything that I've ever done, for that matter.
You appear to believe in absolute truth. Yeah, absolutely. (There is the faintest of chuckles.) I do believe in absolute truth, and even in an absolute truth that we can know. You may investigate a crime and fail to come to some absolute, definitive conclusion about what happened, or who's guilty. But you can never know that in advance. You can never know in an investigation if you will be successful or unsuccessful. You have to operate under the premise that you will be successful, that you can come to a conclusion, that you can get definite answers.
My take is that the criminal justice system won't accept uncertainty as an answer when sometimes uncertainty is the best you can achieve. The interests of the criminal justice system are different from the interests of, say, some Platonic detective who cares about what really and truly happened. The criminal justice system has to come to a conclusion. It has to come to a definitive answer because a decision has to be made. Do you lock the defendant up? Or do you turn them free? That's not a bad thing, per se. It can turn rotten, however, when evidence is hidden, destroyed, suppressed; where the trial isn't really an attempt to sort through evidence but rather an attempt to hide evidence. I've heard people say that the MacDonald trial is an indictment of the American justice system. But it's nothing of the sort. The MacDonald trial broke all the rules — the rules that we have in order to ensure that trials are fair and just. But, yeah, the need to find somebody guilty beyond a reasonable doubt — all of that makes sense in context of the law. But if I'm investigating the case, if I'm the detective, maybe I want something more than a reasonable doubt.
In general, why is it so hard to get people to agree on the truth? There are lots of reasons. Part of it is that we're all possessed by narratives. We all like to weave stories for ourselves. Part of why I wrote this book is to tell a story about how narratives can actually prevent you from seeing evidence, from seeing the world. You become lost in a sea of narratives where the world is no longer relevant, no longer matters. And that's very much the story of this case. One thing to remember about truth is that just because some people believe it doesn't make it true. It may make it harder to get people to listen to the alternative, but it doesn't make it true. And so I wrote the book, to take you through an alternative narrative and to argue for it.
, Books, Errol Morris, Interviews, More