When White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer put up a “factcheck” on the official White House blog last week he was pulling nopunches. He pushed back on the “patently false” claim that “PresidentObama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office andsent it back to the British Embassy.” Pfeiffer singled out CharlesKrauthammer 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 afterits return from the Oval Office in 2009. At some point Friday, Pfeiffercaught wind of the error and published an update to his original factcheck. The update explained, in language that even the NY Times foundconfusing, that there were actually two busts of Churchill. One hadindeed been returned to the British embassy, the other was on display inthe White House residence.
One thing Pfeiffer’s Friday afternoon update did not do was apologizeto Charles Krauthammer for attacking him by name without having thefacts. On Sunday, Krauthammer demanded a correctionfrom the White House in a column published by the Washington Post.Krauthammer also asked for an apology but expressed skepticism that onewould be forthcoming saying the Nationals would win the World Seriesfirst.
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 owedan apology. There was clearly an internal confusion about the two bustsand there was no intention to deceive. I clearly overshot the runway inmy post. The point I was trying to make – under the belief that the Bustin the residence was the one previously in the Oval Office– was thatthis oft repeated talking point about the bust being a symbol ofPresident Obama’s failure to appreciate the special relationship isfalse. The bust that was returned was returned as a matter of coursewith all the other artwork that had been loaned to President Bush fordisplay in his Oval Office and not something that President Obama or hisAdministration chose to do. I still think this is an important pointand one I wish I had communicated better.
A better understanding of the facts on my part and a couple of deepbreaths at the outset would have prevented this situation. Having saidall that, barring a miracle comeback from the Phillies I would like tosee the Nats win a world series even if it comes after my apology
Pfeiffer did the right thing in apologizing to Krauthammer, but hisstory about the bust is still a bit hard to swallow. How did both he andJay Carney have the idea that the bust had never left the White Housewhen there had been reporting to the contrary? A simple check with theWhite House curator would have clarified the facts. Did he do one beforewriting his fact check? It’s a bit hard to believe that Pfeiffer wentthis far out on a limb in public without doing his due diligence. If hedid, he should be apologizing to his boss as well.
There’s also the question about when the other bust re-appeared inthe White House. Pfeiffer’s confusing Friday update notes that it wasnot on display in 2001 because it was “being worked on.” It “returned”some unspecified time later. Pfeiffer never says when it returned. Maybeit did so during the Bush administration or maybe it was in 2009 rightafter the return of the other bust became an international news story.In the former case Pfeiffer’s confusion would be more understandable, inthe latter not so much. That fact that he didn’t offer that relevantinformation could be another oversight or it could suggest the latestflap wasn’t the White House’s first attempt to pull a fast one on thisstory.