Over the weekend we wrote about White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer’s meltdown, in which he accused Charles Krauthammer of retailing a falsehood about Obama’s (notorious) return of winston Churchill’s bust to the Brits in January 2009. Obama’s return of Churchill’s bust was a story that was widely reported at the time. Did Pfeiffer somehow miss it? Within hours of Pfeiffer’s post on Friday the British embassy in Washington confirmed its custody of the returned Churchill bust.
I wondered if the Obama public relations team was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, whether Krauthammer had gotten inside their head, or whether Krauthammer had put them on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Dr. Krauthammer has not drawn on his psychiatric training to opine on that question, but he has returned to the subject with a call for an apology. After recounting Friday’s events, Krauthammer concludes:
The decent thing to do…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.”
Or he could send it to New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, who at first repeated Pfeiffer’s denunciation of the Churchill bust “falsehood,” and then later honorably corrected himself, admitting that “I got some facts wrong, because I made the mistake of relying on a White House blog post by the communications director Dan Pfeiffer.” Rosenthal then chided Pfeiffer for posting “a weaselly follow-up comment” after the facts became clear that “fails to acknowledge that his post the previous day was false.”
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.)
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.
Krauthammer had it right in his column on Friday, and I suspect that he is right in his reckoning that an apology is unlikely. If the past practice is any guide, we will be hearing that Krauthammer took Pfeiffer’s claim out of context.
UPDATE: I should have noted that Pfeiffer is, as you might expect, a hard case. Krauthammer gives Pfeiffer the benefit of the doubt regarding his bona fides in today’s column, but even after his pratfall (assuming that is what it was) was pointed out to him on Friday, in the update to his White House Blog post Pfeiffer characterized the removal of Churchill’s bust from the Oval Office as “completely false and an urban legend that continues to circulate to this day.”