Commentary Magazine


Re: Where’s Winston?

Last week, I noted that White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer claimed to have caught columnist Charles Krauthammer in a gaffe about the bust of Winston Churchill that sat in the Oval Office prior to Barack Obama becoming president. Pfeiffer said Krauthammer was wrong to say it had been returned to the British Embassy and that it was instead merely lodged in a different though less prestigious spot in the White House. Though I pointed out that Krauthammer was right on the symbolism of the removal of the bust from the Oval Office as it signified the president’s downgrading of the alliance with Britain, I wrongly assumed that Pfeiffer was right about the bust’s current location.

In fact, as Krauthammer pointed out in a blog post yesterday, the British Embassy confirms the president gave the bust back in January 2009. What’s more, the photo released by the White House claiming to be of President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron looking at the bust is one of them viewing a different bust of Churchill, not the one that had been in the Oval Office. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who believed the White House’s easily discovered deception. Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times did too, but has since apologized and criticized the administration for its “weaselly follow-up” that “failed to acknowledge” what they had said was “false.”

The point of this kerfuffle was not so much where the bust was but the way Obama had chosen to symbolically “move on” from George W. Bush’s admiration for Churchill and how it reflected his disdain for traditional allies like Britain and Israel.  Contary to Rosenthal’s apology, that is a legitimate issue, and the administration’s fallacious response shows they understand this is a problem.

Pfeiffer owes Krauthammer a real apology, but so do I. I apologize for not only relaying the White House misinformation as truth but for trusting their word over the sage Krauthammer. I won’t make that mistake again.