Bust of the Obama White House

This incident is a small one in the overall scheme of things, but it acts as a sort of channel-marker of style which, in this case, is troubling. A little background:

During the 1960s, the United Kingdom gave the US president at the time a sculpted bust of Winston Churchill. This wound up in the Official Residence. In 2001, during the Bush administration, the UK loaned a new sculpture of Churchill, and Bush gave it pride of place in the Oval Office. When Obama took over, the British offered to let the bust remain in place. Obama refused, which disappointed and irritated the Brits at the time. This was discussed at length in UK papers and here in the States, but was downplayed on the US mainstream media. It was to be the first of many snubs of the UK by this administration, and it was clear to them that the “Special Relationship” was not so special. The Obama administration made that explicitly clear, and forced the British representative to literally chase Obama for a meeting.

Churchill, the UK’s Prime Minister during World War II, is highly admired on both sides of the Atlantic, and his mother was born in the US. Here’s the bust next to President Bush:

President Bush and the Churchill Bust

Both have been gone since early 2009.  Now, on July 27 2012, Charles Krauthammer wrote an article in the Washington Post commenting critically on the Obama foreign policy (and was critical of Romney as well):

 Obama started his presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office. Then came the State Department official who denied the very existence of a U.S.-British special relationship, saying: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world.”

To be topped off by the slap the Brits received over the Falkland Islands, an issue they had considered closed since they repelled the Argentine invasion there 30 years ago. They were not amused by the Obama administration’s studied neutrality between Britain and Argentina, with both a State Department spokesman and the president ostentatiously employing “Malvinas,” the politically charged Argentine name, interchangeably with “Falklands.” (Although the president flubbed it, calling them the “Maldives,” an Indian Ocean island chain 8,000 miles away.)

The only other comment he had on the Churchill bust was at the end of the column, in his advice for Romney:

Most important, however, is to just show up. That’s 80 percent of life, Woody Allen once noted. No need to say much. Romney’s very presence will make the statement.

To the Israelis: “We understand your unique plight. If and when you do as you must, we will stand by you.” To the Poles: “You can count on the American umbrella. I will never leave you out in the cold.” And to the British: “We are grateful for your steadfast solidarity in awful places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The relationship truly is special.

“And one more thing. Still have that bust of Churchill?”

Righting his ship late Thursday in London, Romney did say he wants Winnie back in the Oval Office.

I chuckled at this, but appreciated the notion: The Churchill bust has been symbolic of a busted relationship.  But this column evidently struck a nerve at the Obama White House, and Dan Pfeiffer of the White House blog mounted an attack calling Dr. Krauthammer a liar:

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.

The odd thing about this is that he goes on to recite the “official story” that had been fed to the compliant media at the time, now quoting this media version. But anyone whose reading is broader than the progressive media in the US knew the truth — and apparently a number of them wrote to Pfeiffer about the fact that there were two busts.  Later, he added this addendum, while not retracting his “100% false” assertion:

Update: Since my post on the fact that the bust of Winston Churchill has remained on display in the White House, despite assertions to the contrary, I have received a bunch of questions — so let me provide some additional info. The White House has had a bust of Winston Churchill since the 1960’s. At the start of the Bush administration Prime Minister Blair lent President Bush a bust that matched the one in the White House, which was being worked on at the time and was later returned to the residence.  The version lent by Prime Minister Blair was displayed by President Bush until the end of his Presidency.  On January 20, 2009 — Inauguration Day — all of the art lent specifically for President Bush’s Oval Office was removed by the curator’s office, as is common practice at the end of every presidency. The original Churchill bust remained on display in the residence. 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.

Notice that Krauthammer said nothing about “antipathy toward the British” — though this was widely reported at the time by the British themselves. Pfeiffer is denying the real story in favor of the cover story, even as he admits that the cover story is not true. He was apparently unaware of the falsehood, and was “sucking his own exhaust” as the colloquial phrase goes.

Dr. Krauthammer called him out on this, and demanded an apology.

The Oval Office Churchill — the one in question, the one Pfeiffer says never left the White House — did leave the White House, was returned to the British government, and sits proudly at this very moment in the British ambassador’s residence. Was that little photographic switcheroo an honest mistake on ­Pfeiffer’s part? Or was it deliberate deception? I have no idea. But in either case, the effect was to deceive Pfeiffer’s readers into believing that my assertion about the removal of the Oval Office Churchill was “patently false . . . ridiculous . . . 100% false.” *** The decent thing to do, therefore, would be to acknowledge the (inadvertent?) deception and apologize for it. He could send the retraction to Mediaite, the nonpartisan media Web site run by Dan Abrams, whose report on this contretemps was headlined: “British Embassy Confirms Krauthammer Right, White House Wrong: Churchill Bust Returned in 2009.” ***

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.)

As more and more media outlets noted that the White House was wrong and Krauthammer was right, it would have been time to make a public announcement of the fact and move on. Eventually, Pfeiffer tried to apologize by private email to Krauthammer, who was having none of it. Ultimately Pfeiffer did as requested and posted a brief apology as a separate entry (actually, he said that Dr. Krauthammer was owed an apology, but did not explicitly apologize — it was close enough):

Yesterday following his column, I sent the following email to Charles Krauthammer. Charles asked that I make the email public and I have agreed.


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

The “I wish I had communicated better” implies that Pfeiffer knew the real story, was attempting to tell it, and just did a bad job. Once again, he is ducking reality — making a false statement, in other words. He either knew there were two busts or did not (and his blog post indicated he did not), and this does not work either way.

But he also maintains the other falsehood: “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.” This is simply false. The loan was offered to be extended, and Obama refused, and this is widely documented. So Pfeiffer is still in denial, still sucking his own exhaust, despite new statements by the British on the situation in the past few days. Not something that Obama chose to do? Here’s part of one UK article from 2009:

A bust of the former prime minister once voted the greatest Briton in history, which was loaned to George W Bush from the Government’s art collection after the September 11 attacks, has now been formally handed back.

The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush’s tenure.

But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

It was abundantly clear that the extension was offered, and refused, and the White House had obliquely admitted it at the time. Pfeiffer still owes an apology — to Dr. Krauthammer, and to his readers. But not only for that: To this day, the original “Krauthammer is a liar” post sits, without the apology or even a link to the apology. Anyone looking at the issue (and unaware of coverage outside of progressive media) would assume that Pfeiffer’s lies are still the official word of the White House.  He was caught in lies while accusing another of lying, partially admitted one of his lies, kept up another, and left his original accusations intact. That, in my opinion, is shameful.

It was also instructive to see the reactions of Obama supporters in the comments to Krauthammer’s column. They were divided between “This isn’t important, talk about something else” and “What about Bush’s lies?” Oh, and some blatant attacks, such as this one after it became obvious (with Pfeiffer’s apology) that Dr. Krauthammer had been correct. A “Gus Ellis” commented:

Charles the krautface is back at it again. What a despicable dirtbag. If Obama cured Krauthammer, the krautface would find fault with it. Another FOX NEWS butt kisser.

Lovely. By “cured Krauthammer,” this “Gus Ellis” is referring to the fact that Dr. Krauthammer has been a paraplegic most of his life. It’s interesting to me that this was posted after the facts were well established.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle