White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer did something today I’ve never seen a White House official do in any of the three administrations I covered: He apologized for something.
Okay, probably it’s happened before, but if so I don’t remember it.
Pfeiffer, you’ll remember, had in a White House blog post dismissed in the most scornful manner an assertion by columnist Charles Krauthammer that the bust of Winston Churchill that adorned the Oval Office of George W. Bush had been sent back to the British. Pfeiffer declared the bust had been sent only as far as the White House residence.
Turns out the bust in the White House residence was a second likeness of the British leader, and the Oval Office bust was now indeed in the hands of the Brits, over at the embassy on Massachusetts Avenue.
So then, in a tactless “update” to the original post, Pfeiffer corrected the mistake without a hint of remorse or even a suggestion that he had erred. It demonstrated a disconcerting level of hubris and nastiness in someone so close to the President of the United States.
Krauthammer demanded an apology, which he doubted he’d ever get. I too assumed nothing nice would be coming Krauthammer’s way.
Yesterday, Krauthammer got his apology. Pfeiffer, at Krauthammer’s request, printed it today in a new White House blog post. He said he was sorry for the mistake and seemed to be suggesting regret for the tone of the accusation too.
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.
Pfeiffer should be commended for trying to recoup a little bit of lost classiness for the White House.
Nevertheless, it’s a little difficult to imagine that Obama couldn’t have kept the bust if he wanted it and didn’t in effect send it back. In fact, in 2009, a spokesman for the British embassy told The Telegraph that Obama “has decided not to continue this loan and the bust has now been returned.”