When Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney criticized President Obama for sending a bust of Winston Churchill back to England – a charge that was repeated by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer – the White House initially responded with immediate, cutting defensiveness. Specifically, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer fired back on the charge, calling it a “rumor” that was “patently false,” and citing Krauthammer as someone who had “repeated this ridiculous claim.” In fact, Pfeiffer went so far as to post a picture of President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron looking at a bust of Churchill, presumably the bust in question.
Unfortunately for Pfeiffer, that bust was actually not the bust in question. There were two, you see, one of which Britain had loaned to former President Bush after the September 11 attacks (and which Obama sent back), and one of which remained in the White House. Pfeiffer was apparently unaware of the White House’s inventory of artwork, despite being the White House’s communications director, and apparently feeling compelled to comment on that very subject. Now, Pfeiffer is apologizing to Krauthammer, and it looks like the claim might not have been so “ridiculous” after all:
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.
Readers are free to dispute Pfeiffer’s claim that the United States has not disrespected its “special relationship” with Britain. However, this seems to be a clear (and rare) admission on the part of the White House that they got the argument wrong.