Here's the whole "60 Minutes" segment, which aired yesterday. Watching the short excerpt, I was inclined to minimize Clinton's "as far as I know," because it seemed as though Steve Kroft was using a technique of continuing to ask the same question until he extracted the quote that would make news. Clinton's initial response is completely appropriate, and, to my ear, it seemed as if the backing off in the end was a lawyerly precision about her lack of personal knowledge of the subject rather than a sly attempt to stimulate doubts.
But let's look at the whole context (at the end of the segment):
1. One seriously confused citizen, interviewed on camera, expresses the belief that Obama is a Muslim and says that's what he's "been told."
2. We see Barack Obama, interviewed by Kroft, who tells the candidate that something that's "popped up" on their "radar screen" — "not widespread" — is the idea that he is a Muslim. "60 Minutes" has skipped over any independent effort to trace the rumors. Kroft simply asks Obama: "Where's it coming from?" Obama says: "This has been a systematic email smear campaign that's been going on since actually very early in this campaign. Clearly, it's a deliberate effort by some group or somebody to generate this rumor."
3. "60 Minutes" shows the African garb photograph of Obama that, we're told, was on the internet and "attributed to people in the Clinton campaign."
4. Kroft informs us that "Senator Clinton denied any knowledge of it," and then we see Clinton talking not about the source of the rumors, but about whether she believes Obama is a Muslim. Her denials then come across as a little too smilingly cute and constrained. She doesn't know.
Now, I think this "60 Minutes" segment is very poor journalism. We're shown one ignorant man, told about rumors that are some unknown degree short of widespread, then treated to the statement of one candidate who asserts there is a "a systematic email smear campaign," followed by the statement that the one photo was "attributed to people in the Clinton campaign." What kind of reporting is that? Why don't you tell us the extent of the rumor, what was in the emails, and investigate the source? Why is there no following up on Obama's assertion that there is "a systematic email smear campaign"?
Instead, the Obama interview is edited to allow him the chance to profess his longstanding belief in Christianity and to say some magnanimous things about Muslims. Obama seems delightfully warm and flashes a beautiful smile. Hasn't he — with the help of "60 Minutes" — just slyly facilitated the rumor that the Clinton campaign is the source of the email?
Hillary Clinton has no way to know this is the set up, and her interview is cut to make it seem as though she's unwilling to squelch the rumor. But what exactly did she say about whether her campaign is the source of the email or the photograph? Did Kroft probe? It didn't make the edit. Maybe it wasn't punchy and entertaining enough, and maybe "60 Minutes" meant to leave her looking like the insincere face of an underhanded campaign.
ADDED: Mickey Kaus agrees with me:
It seems like mere reflexive politico-legal ass-covering on her part, not innuendo-spreading. If you're Hillary, you have to have learned not to make sweeping declarations of fact about things you can't really know--e.g., "Obama is not a Muslim"--without adding a caveat. Her sin, if any, was not realizing that this instance was an exception to the normal rule --an occasion where she'd be expected to make a sweeping declaration of fact about something she couldn't really know. And to do it on 60 Minutes--where smart politicians are normally primed be very cautious.AND: There's room here to criticize Hillary for being too much of a lawyer, but there is also an argument that she is being distinctively Christian. It is a Christian point of view to see religion as something internal, known only to the individual and to God. You might go to church every Sunday and still not be a Christian, in Christian terms. Thus, if the question is whether someone else is a Christian, the most you can ever say is as far as I know. To claim to know more is to put yourself in the place of God.