Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer has written an extraordinary column in the Washington Post asking for an apology and correction from President Barack Obama’s communications director in the White House, Dan Pfeiffer, after Pfeiffer’s “bust” of Krauthammer’s reference to a bust of Winston Churchill was itself “busted” by bloggers and journalists who documented that the bust had, in fact, been returned by President Obama to the British Embassy and not moved to another room, as claimed by spokesman Jay Carney last week.
The story of the bust dates to the early days of Obama’s presidency in 2009, when he returned a Churchill bust to the British Embassy that had been loaned to the Bush administration and which sat in the Oval Office. The British Embassy offered to renew the loan, but Obama refused–leading to speculation as to what the cause of his apparent animus towards Britain might be. Some speculated that it might be resentment about the “fact” that his grandfather had been tortured by the British in Kenya–one of many colorful details about Obama’s biography that turned out not to be true. The reality was more mundane: Obama sought to downplay any notion of a “special relationship” with Britain–especially one connected to the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003.
Three-and-a-half years later, Krauthammer referred to the bust incident in a column about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s trip abroad, and the White House suddenly unleashed a furious response, calling the Churchill bust story “100% false,” and including a photograph of Obama supposedly showing off the bust to British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010. But Pfeiffer’s version of events–and Carney’s–did not match the facts as they became known in 2009, and journalists and bloggers went digging for the truth.
Breitbart News’ John Sexton unearthed a photograph of the returned bust in the British Embassy in 2009. ABC News’ Jake Tapper confirmed that there are in fact two Churchill busts: one permanently in the White House as a gift, the other temporarily in the White House as a loan–which was indeed returned to the British Embassy in 2009. Pfeiffer then added an update to his statement on the White House blog, in which he acknowledged that one bust had been returned: it “was removed by the curator’s office, as is common practice at the end of every presidency,” he claimed. And yet the fact remained, as Krauthammer points out in his response to Pfeiffer, that the British Embassy had offered to extend the loan, and Obama had refused.
Krauthammer’s conclusion is devastating:
In my view, this whole affair was completely unnecessary. Pfeiffer devoted an entire post (with accompanying photography) on the White House Blog to a single sentence in a larger argument about foreign policy, and blew it up into an indignant defense of truth itself and a handy club with which to discredit the credibility of a persistent critic of his boss. (After all, why now? Why this column? Since the return of the Oval Office Churchill in 2009, that fact had been asserted in at least half a dozen major news outlets, including Newsweek, CBS News, ABC News, the Telegraph and The Washington Post.)
So I suggest Mr. Pfeiffer bring this to a short, painless and honorable conclusion: a simple admission that he got it wrong and that my assertion was correct. An apology would be nice, but given this White House’s arm’s-length relationship with truth–and given Ryan Zimmerman’s hot hitting–I reckon the Nationals will win the World Series before I receive Pfeiffer’s mea culpa.
A response worthy of a nod from Retracto, the Correction Alpaca. Well played, Mr. Krauthammer.