Perhaps White House Communication Director Dan Pfeiffer hasn’t heard that old Mark Twain adage, “Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.” It’s typically the first rule PR flacks are taught when interning at their miserable first jobs.
That’s why Pfeiffer’s outrage over the Bust of Churchill was just so puzzling. Last week, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote about Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel (more on that later), and contrasted the visit with President Obama, who “started his Presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office.”
Pfeiffer immediately fired back in a nasty blog on the White House website saying, “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. This is 100% false. The bust [is] still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room.”
The post is dripping with horror, with false indignation, and even offered photographic evidence of the bust in question. Unfortunately, the photo was of a bust of Churchill given to President Lyndon B. Johnson – a copy of the original. It’s all so, so Presidential.
The British Embassy issued a statement on the whereabouts of the bust in question just a few hours later saying, “the bust now resides in the British ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C.”
“As the British Embassy explained in 2009, the bust ‘was lent for the first term of office of President Bush. When the President was elected for his second and final term, the loan was extended until January 2009. The new President has decided not to continue this loan and the bust has now been returned.’”
This missive would have been wrong to do if Pfeiffer’s statement was true, but, it’s twice as ridiculous since it’s actually false, and backed up with false “photographic evidence”.
The issue here isn’t which bust of Churchill resides where, but is a matter of how we treat our allies and whether the Obama administration is more concerned about optics than truth. Even the New York Times criticized the episode:
"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.'"
As a liberal, you know you’ve got problems when the New York Times is lambasting you. Of course, another top rule for PR flacks is – don’t become the story. It looks like this was a PR Fail on many levels. Just another episode in White House Amateur Hour. Who is babysitting the PR department? Biden?