Fineman called Clinton's comments on Obama's religion "positively Nixonian"

››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS

Discussing Sen. Hillary Clinton's answer to a question about whether she believed Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim, Newsweek editor Howard Fineman said that Clinton's answer was "positively Nixonian in its pauses and innuendos." In fact, Clinton's first three words in response to the question -- "You don't believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim?" -- were, "Of course not."

During MSNBC's coverage of the Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island primaries on March 4, Hardball host Chris Matthews stated that when asked on the March 2 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes whether she believed Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim, "Hillary Clinton took the longest time to answer Steve Kroft's question the other night. I don't know whether to read too much into it, but everybody has, that she played a bit of a game here." Newsweek editor Howard Fineman later said that Clinton's answer was "positively Nixonian in its pauses and innuendos." He added, "Look at it and look at it carefully. There was nothing accidental about it." Fineman also said, "Hillary was brilliantly Machiavellian in sounding indignant while at the same time raising doubts about Obama."

In fact, Clinton's first three words in response to Kroft's question -- "You don't believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim?" -- were, "Of course not." Additionally, Clinton made clear at the end of the exchange with Kroft that she was likening the rumors about Obama's religion to false rumors about her: "Look, I have been the target of so many ridiculous rumors. I have a great deal of sympathy for anybody who gets, you know, smeared with the kind of rumors that go on all the time."

During the March 3 edition of Hardball, Matthews asserted that Clinton's campaign is "[g]oing after" Obama "in this Muslim issue" and claimed that she "g[ave] up a clear chance to dismiss these bad stories being pushed by bad people, that he's not the religion he is, clearly to try to disturb people." Matthews added: "She had a clear opportunity on 60 Minutes to clear that up, and she didn't take it." Later in the program, he played a clip of Clinton's 60 Minutes interview in which the end of Clinton's answer was cropped so it did not include a remark in which she clearly stated that she did not believe that Obama was a Muslim and added that she too had been "the target of so many ridiculous rumors." Matthews then repeatedly highlighted only part of Clinton's comments to suggest that she had left Obama's religious beliefs in doubt.

From the March 2 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes:

KROFT: You don't believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim?

CLINTON: Of course not. I mean, that's -- you know, there is no basis for that. You know, I take him on the basis of what he says. And, you know, there isn't any reason to doubt that.

KROFT: And you said you'd take Senator Obama at his word that he's not a Muslim.

CLINTON: Right. Right.

KROFT: You don't believe that he's a Muslim --

CLINTON: No. No. Why would I? There's no --

KROFT: -- or implying, right?

CLINTON: No, there is nothing to base that on, as far as I know.

KROFT: It's just scurrilous --

CLINTON: Look, I have been the target of so many ridiculous rumors. I have a great deal of sympathy for anybody who gets, you know, smeared with the kind of rumors that go on all the time.

From the 7 p.m. ET March 4 edition of MSNBC Live:

MATTHEWS: It seems to me that Senator Clinton has been very effective in the last couple days, at least by the lights of the media trying to cover this before the voting gets counted tonight, in bringing into question Barack Obama's trustworthiness, in regard to his economic adviser's talks sotto voce with the Canadian consular official. And whether that was a wink that we're really not serious about looking at NAFTA again. This whole question of his religious faith. Everyone knows he's a Christian. He knows it, we know it. Yet Hillary Clinton took the longest time to answer Steve Kroft's question the other night. I don't know whether to read too much into it, but everybody has, that she played a bit of a game here, just as she did with John Kerry to get him out of the race a couple months ago by taking that joke of his, about if you're stupid you'll take us to Iraq, as some kind of statement that if you flunk out of school, you get drafted. The worst possible interpretation of that joke to kill John Kerry. Is she now on a route now to destroy the credibility of Barack Obama if that's the only way she can win this nomination?

FINEMAN: Two things, Chris. First of all, if you look at the big picture, Hillary is running an almost entirely negative campaign right now. We tend to forget that. That's what the kitchen sink is all about. It's not about her, it's about him. And she's hoping that the crossfire of her campaign and the McCain Republican campaign will weaken Obama dramatically. The second thing is, Hillary Clinton doesn't do anything by accident. I watched that CBS tape of Steve Kroft's interview very, very carefully, and Hillary was brilliantly Machiavellian in sounding indignant while at the same time raising doubts about Obama. She said, "Why, I have no reason to think that he's anything other than a Christian." I mean that was -- I'm a reporter and an analyst, not an editorial writer, but that was positively Nixonian in its pauses and innuendos. Look at it and look at it carefully. There was nothing accidental about it.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Howard Fineman.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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