When White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer put up a "fact
check" on the official White House blog last week he was pulling no
punches. He pushed back on the "patently false" claim that "President
Obama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and
sent it back to the British Embassy." Pfeiffer singled out Charles
Krauthammer for repeating this "rumor" in his weekly column.
Only one big problem with Pfeiffer's fact check. It was false. As noted here,
there were photos of the Churchill bust in the British embassy after
its return from the Oval Office in 2009. At some point Friday, Pfeiffer
caught wind of the error and published an update to his original fact
check. The update explained, in language that even the NY Times found
confusing, that there were actually two busts of Churchill. One had
indeed been returned to the British embassy, the other was on display in
the White House residence.
One thing Pfeiffer's Friday afternoon update did not do was apologize
to Charles Krauthammer for attacking him by name without having the
facts. On Sunday, Krauthammer demanded a correction
from the White House in a column published by the Washington Post.
Krauthammer also asked for an apology but expressed skepticism that one
would be forthcoming saying the Nationals would win the World Series
To his credit, Dan Pfeiffer did apologize by email and, at Charles' request, posted the letter on the White House blog:
I take your criticism seriously and you are correct that you are owed
an apology. There was clearly an internal confusion about the two busts
and there was no intention to deceive. I clearly overshot the runway in
my post. The point I was trying to make – under the belief that the Bust
in the residence was the one previously in the Oval Office-- was that
this oft repeated talking point about the bust being a symbol of
President Obama’s failure to appreciate the special relationship is
false. The bust that was returned was returned as a matter of course
with all the other artwork that had been loaned to President Bush for
display in his Oval Office and not something that President Obama or his
Administration chose to do. I still think this is an important point
and one I wish I had communicated better.
A better understanding of the facts on my part and a couple of deep
breaths at the outset would have prevented this situation. Having said
all that, barring a miracle comeback from the Phillies I would like to
see the Nats win a world series even if it comes after my apology
Pfeiffer did the right thing in apologizing to Krauthammer, but his
story about the bust is still a bit hard to swallow. How did both he and
Jay Carney have the idea that the bust had never left the White House
when there had been reporting to the contrary? A simple check with the
White House curator would have clarified the facts. Did he do one before
writing his fact check? It's a bit hard to believe that Pfeiffer went
this far out on a limb in public without doing his due diligence. If he
did, he should be apologizing to his boss as well.
There's also the question about when the other bust re-appeared in
the White House. Pfeiffer's confusing Friday update notes that it was
not on display in 2001 because it was "being worked on." It "returned"
some unspecified time later. Pfeiffer never says when it returned. Maybe
it did so during the Bush administration or maybe it was in 2009 right
after the return of the other bust became an international news story.
In the former case Pfeiffer's confusion would be more understandable, in
the latter not so much. That fact that he didn't offer that relevant
information could be another oversight or it could suggest the latest
flap wasn't the White House's first attempt to pull a fast one on this
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