Scarborough trots out the most-Americans-don't-know-the -difference defense of McCain's Sunni-Shiite "confus[ion]'

››› ››› MEREDITH ADAMS

On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough defended Sen. John McCain's apparent conflation of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, saying: "The thing is, everybody is obsessing over the fact that he keeps confusing Sunni and Shia. The fact is, I -- you know what? I could start peppering people with questions about Sunnis and Shia and Kurds, and the relationships there, and 99 percent of Americans wouldn't know; 99 percent of Americans wouldn't give a damn."

On the April 9 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, during a discussion of what co-host Mika Brzezinski described as Sen. John McCain's "rough spot with the Sunni-Shiite thing" while questioning Gen. David Petraeus on April 9, co-host Joe Scarborough defended McCain, saying: "The thing is, everybody is obsessing over the fact that he keeps confusing Sunni and Shia. The fact is, I -- you know what? I could start peppering people with questions about Sunnis and Shia and Kurds, and the relationships there, and 99 percent of Americans wouldn't know; 99 percent of Americans wouldn't give a damn."

During the hearing, McCain asked Petraeus: "Do you still view Al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?" Petraeus replied: "It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago." McCain then asked "Certainly not an obscure sect of -- of the Shiites all -- overall --" Petraeus replied, "No," as McCain said: "or Sunnis or anybody else?" In fact, Al Qaeda in Iraq is a Sunni group, not a Shiite group.

Scarborough also said: "The bottom line is, John McCain knows Iraq, John McCain's been over to Iraq. If he keeps confusing Sunni and Shia, it's a block. You know, all presidents have these, like, mind blocks. George Bush -- it happens when he talks. Bill Clinton, it happens whenever he has to make personal judgments. Everybody's got their thing."

This is not the first time a member of the media has excused McCain's errors on this subject by asserting that most Americans don't know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. As Media Matters for America noted, after McCain previously conflated Sunni and Shiite -- making the admittedly false claim on March 18 that "[i]t's common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran" -- USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page asserted, "I think it's a verbal error. And, you know, most Americans can't tell you the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, either." McCain made the misstatement twice during a press conference on March 18 and also to nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt during a March 17 interview.

As Media Matters also documented, during the March 19 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House, Scarborough suggested that McCain's misstatement on March 18 were the result of a lack of sleep, saying: "John McCain also doesn't know the difference between Sunnis and Shia after he's been awake for 48 hours." He added, "Boy, that's a winning platform."

From the April 9 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

BRZEZINSKI: He hit a little bit of a rough spot with the Sunni-Shiite thing again.

SCARBOROUGH: But you know what --

BRZEZINSKI: But we'll get to that.

SCARBOROUGH: The thing is, everybody is obsessing over the fact that he keeps confusing Sunni and Shia. The fact is, I -- you know what? I could start peppering people with questions about Sunnis and Shia and Kurds, and the relationships there, and 99 percent of Americans wouldn't know; 99 percent of Americans wouldn't give a damn. The bottom line is, John McCain knows Iraq, John McCain's been over to Iraq. If he keeps confusing Sunni and Shia, it's a block. You know, all presidents have these, like, mind blocks. George Bush --

GEIST: Several.

SCARBOROUGH: -- it happens when he talks.

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, I don't think that's a good example.

SCARBOROUGH: Bill Clinton, it happens whenever he has to make personal judgments. Everybody's got their thing.

BRZEZINSKI: You know what? That's -- I'm sorry, that's ridiculous. But I'm thinking the guy, you know, probably doesn't want to do that a third time.

SCARBOROUGH: So are you suggesting that John McCain's dumb? Or that --

BRZEZINSKI: No, I'm not. I'm suggesting that --

SCARBOROUGH: Are you suggesting he's too old? Are you suggesting he's confused? Are you suggesting he doesn't understand --

BRZEZINSKI: You are -- happy birthday.

SCARBOROUGH: Are you suggest -- what are you suggesting? And why -- what are these people who don't know much -- I almost said a word that probably would have gotten me fired on my birthday --

GEIST: Yeah.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes.

SCARBOROUGH: Who don't know much about Iraq, who write their little blogs while their faces and fingers are smeared with Cheeto dust in the basements of their ranch house in Schenectady, New York. What are these people suggesting? That they know more about Iraq than John McCain? I'm not defending John McCain; I'd say the same thing about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

BRZEZINSKI: Uh-huh.

SCARBOROUGH: What is the point?

BRZEZINSKI: I think the point is that the candidates all need to define themselves on Iraq, and John McCain has the credibility of a war hero and of experience --

SCARBOROUGH: But what about the Sunni and Shia --

BRZEZINSKI: And it just doesn't help. The Democrats, I think, have a much bigger challenge with this --

SCARBOROUGH: Right.

BRZEZINSKI: And I think that, quite frankly, the whole philosophy as to whether or not we go on with this, needs to be debated deeply --

SCARBOROUGH: I think --

BRZEZINSKI: -- because there are serious problems with staying in there a long time.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Joe Scarborough
Show/Publication
Scarborough Country
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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