I'm not sure if it was a one-off mistake or a reflection of the Obama campaign's approach to this subject, but I thought Linda Douglass's response to an Ayers question on CNN this morning came up a little short. Here's Douglass:
Yes. So they served on a board together. Number one, he committed some terrible acts when Barack Obama was 8 years old. Barack Obama has denounced everything he did, found them absolutely reprehensible. This is somebody with whom he serves on a board, and as The New York Times found, you are correct in pointing out, they were not particularly close.
He doesn't ascribe to any views that he might hold. Sarah Palin herself said yesterday that most of what's in The New York Times is true, so if The New York Times has concluded they weren't particularly close after this exhaustive investigation, this is such a red herring.
The McCain campaign has announced publicly that they are now going to engage in personal attacks on Barack Obama, whether they're true or not, because they want to turn the page on the financial disaster that is making more people... (CROSSTALK)
I think this concedes too much. It makes it sounds like Obama condemned Ayers, then blithely served on a board with him, which might strike a voter as questionable.
Why not just say: This is someone who, when Obama met him, was well known in Chicago as an education expert. They were never friends--never even had any relationship to speak of, other than serving on a board at the same time. When Obama learned what Ayers had done 40 years earlier, when Obama was 8, he was quick to condemn it.
That sounds much more reassuring to an uneasy voter* (and has the benefit of being accurate). A lot of us casually interact with people without doing an exhaustive investigation into their past. If someone had a solid reputation when you met them, there's no reason you'd wonder what they might have done decades earlier--unless you went on to become friends or closely associated with them, which was not the case with Obama and Ayers.
*I tweaked this clause for clarity.
Update: I'm going to go out on a limb and say it had nothing to do with this post, but, for what it's worth, top Obama advisers are now embracing this approach, arguing that Obama didn't know who Ayers was when he met him in 1995. (Thanks to Ben Smith for the link.)