Embarrassed White House Issues Apology to Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer received a rare apology yesterday from the Obama White House after the president’s press shop had called him out in a mistaken “fact check” of one of the syndicated writer’s recent columns.

In a posting on the official White House blog yesterday evening, Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer blamed “internal confusion” for an earlier posting in which he denounced Krauthammer for spreading a “rumor that’s so patently false” that Obama had returned to the UK a bust of its former prime minister Winston Churchill upon assuming office.

Pfeiffer made the accusation in a July 27 blog post responding to a Krauthammer column of July 26. The initial post from Pfeiffer is reproduced in full below:

Lately, there’s been a rumor swirling around about the current location of the bust of Winston Churchill. Some have claimed that President Obama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and sent it back to the British Embassy.

Now, normally we wouldn’t address a rumor that’s so patently false, but just this morning the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer repeated this ridiculous claim in his column.  He said President Obama “started his Presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office.”

This is 100% false. The bust still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room. 

News outlets have debunked this claim time and again. First, back in 2010 the National Journal reported that “the Churchill bust was relocated to a prominent spot in the residence to make room for Abraham Lincoln, a figure from whom the first African-American occupant of the Oval Office might well draw inspiration in difficult times.” And just in case anyone forgot, just last year the AP reported that President Obama “replaced the Oval Office fixture with a bust of one of his American heroes, President Abraham Lincoln, and moved the Churchill bust to the White House residence.”

In case these news reports are not enough for Mr. Krauthammer and others, here’s a picture of the President showing off the Churchill bust to Prime Minister Cameron when he visited the White House residence in 2010.

President Barack Obama shows Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom a bust of Sir Winston Churchill (July 20, 2010)

President Barack Obama shows Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom a bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the private residence of the White House, July 20, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Hopefully this clears things up a bit and prevents folks from making this ridiculous claim again.

Unfortunately for the indignant Pfeiffer, Krauthammer was the one who was correct and not he. In fact there were two Churchill busts which had been displayed in the White House. The first was one was a gift to President Lyndon Johnson. The second was one which was loaned to America during the presidency of George W. Bush as a gesture of solidarity following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The UK offered to let the U.S. keep the second Churchill bust beyond Bush's presidency. Instead, the Obama White House chose to return it in early 2009.

After his error was pointed out by numerous websites and individuals, Pfeiffer had to retract his criticism. He did so in a private email to Krauthammer which he later posted to the White House blog at Krauthammer's request:

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


Dan Pfeiffer

For his part, Krauthammer responded to the apology on the "O'Reilly Factor" last night saying that he accepted it, even though he was surprised that it was given:

2012 Presidential Government & Press Dan Pfeiffer Charles Krauthammer Barack Obama