(Photo: White House/Pete Souza)
The White House may think twice before it again tries to take on a Pulitzer Prize winning wordsmith armed with research assistants. A White House communications director accused Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer of spreading false information about a bust of Winston Churchill loaned to the White House after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The British Embassy called the story a "silly diversion" but confirmed that Krauthammer was correct.
The flap began in response to a Krauthammer column accusing President Barack Obama of dissing the British when he returned the Churchill bust upon entering office.
"This is 100% false," Dan Pfeiffer wrote for a White House blog post titled, "Fact Check: The Bust of Winston Churchill." "The bust [is] still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room."
The Churchill bust was not removed from the White House, Pfeiffer claimed, but was moved from the Oval Office to the residence. The post was accompanied by a photo of Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron looking at a bust of Churchill in the White House residence.
"Hopefully this clears things up a bit and prevents folks from making this ridiculous claim again," Pfeiffer concluded.
One problem, though -- that was not the same bust of Churchill that was removed from the Oval Office.
In response to an inquiry from Mediaite, the British Embassy wrote: "The bust of Sir Winston Churchill, by Sir Jacob Epstein, was lent to the George W. Bush administration from the UK's Government Art Collection, for the duration of the Presidency. When that administration came to an end so did the loan; the bust now resides in the British Ambassador's Residence in Washington D.C. The White House collection has its own Epstein bust of Churchill, which President Obama showed to Prime Minister Cameron when he visited the White House in March."
Krauthammer's stinging rebuttal came Sunday: "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. ...
"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."
There were several media reports in 2009 over the Churchill bust controversy and no one from the White House denied the reports at the time. The British embassy offered to let Obama keep the bust in the Oval Office for another four years; Obama preferred a bust of Abraham Lincoln instead. Some in the British press considered Obama's decision an insult.
Pfeiffer has added an update to his original blog post. There is no apology or admission of a mistake but he does claim to provide "some additional info." The bust lent to the White House during the George W. Bush administration was returned, Pfeiffer admits, "as is common practice at the end of every presidency."
"The idea put forward by Charles Krauthammer and others that President Obama returned the Churchill bust or refused to display the bust because of antipathy towards the British is completely false and an urban legend that continues to circulate to this day," Pfeiffer added.
The British Embassy seemed content to put the whole matter behind them, though, writing that the "Churchill bust story is a silly diversion -- let's get on and focus on seeing who wins [the] most medals in the Olympics."