Reporters in Glass Houses: Reyes Inquistor Stein Says 'Al Qaeda Shi'ite'

December 12th, 2006 4:10 PM

Good-natured advice to reporters making headlines by exposing the ignorance of government officials on national security matters: keep your facts straight yourselves.

There's been a rash of stories in recent days about the shocking ignorance of various government officials when it comes to bread 'n butter facts about the war on terror. First there was a report by Lisa Myers of NBC revealing how little some top FBI officials knew about various terrorist groups and leaders.

Just in the last couple days, Jeff Stein the National Security Editor at Congressional Quarterly, has been getting a lot of play with his story of similar ignorance on the part of incoming House Intelligence Commitee Chairman Silvestre Reyes [D-TX]. Reyes didn't know that Al Qaeda was a strictly Sunni group, nor did he have command of the basics about Hezbollah.

Good on Stein for exposing the lacunae in Reyes' knowledge. But by the same token, shouldn't Stein be careful not to commit an identical error himself? Appearing on MSNBC this afternoon, Stein described to host Joe Scarborough his conversation with Reyes in these terms:

"I said, for example, Al Qaeda, which one are they? He said they were predominantly Shiite."

Presuming to correct the record, Stein then stated: "They are not predominantly anything. They are Shiite."

Ruh-roh! Al Qaeda is entirely Sunni, or as Stein wrote in his article: "Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball. That’s because the extremist Sunnis who make up a l Qaeda consider all Shiites to be heretics. Al Qaeda’s Sunni roots account for its very existence."

It was surely a slip of the tongue on Stein's part, not actual confusion on the facts. Even so, if there was one error he didn't want to make . . .

Finkelstein recently returned from Iraq. Contact him at