You know that national politics has entered the realm of the petty and insignificant when we allow ourselves to be distracted by fake news stories created by tedious little journalists, all looking to be the one to start the “next big outrage” in the era of President Donald J. Trump.
Well, we didn’t have to wait long.
On Saturday, Trump’s first full day in office, Time correspondent Zeke Miller tweeted out that the new president had removed the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr., that President Obama brought into the Oval Office when he took over from President George W. Bush. Earlier, The Associated Press had reported that a bust of World War II British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had been returned to the Oval Office.
Miller’s tweet would seem to imply, then, that Trump had the MLK bust removed and Churchill’s bust reinstated (Because Trump’s a racist! See? We all knew it anyway; this just proves it!). (RELATED: See what else the media has lied about recently at MediaFactWatch.com)
Needless to say, this attempt at “gotcha” angered the president, who made a comment about the fake news report during a visit to the CIA later: “I would never do that, because I have great respect for Dr. Martin Luther King.”
As for the overall issue of busts in the Oval Office, this isn’t the first time it’s come up – and not the first time that reports have been wrong. For example, when Obama first took office, critics complained that he sent the bust of Churchill back to the British embassy, insinuating that it was an affront to the United States’ closest ally. In 2011, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a presidential contender for the GOP nomination in 2012 and again in 2016, suggested that Obama removed the bust because “he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.” It was a false claim that Obama grew up in Kenya, where his father was born and raised; Obama visited Kenya for the first time in his 20s.
In reality, the White House has had two busts of Churchill, and both of them were created by British sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein.
Then came the ugly, and incorrect, denial from the Obama White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer; he attempted to settle a charge by columnist Charles Krauthammer that the administration snubbed an ally by giving back a bust of one of Britain’s greatest 20th century leaders.
“This is 100% false. The bust (is) still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room,” Pfeiffer wrote in a blog post. Only, that wasn’t the bust to which Krauthammer had referred. Shortly thereafter, in another blog post, Pfeiffer apologized to Krauthammer and explained.
You see, the bust that Pfeiffer was talking about has been in the White House since the 1960s – a gift from Britain to President Lyndon B. Johnson. The other one – the one that was actually in the Oval Office during Bush’s administration – was lent to his White House by Prime Minister Tony Blair at the outset of Bush’s presidency. What the Obama administration was doing in returning the bust to the British was proper etiquette and expected.
“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 updated Pfeiffer blog noted. “The original Churchill bust remained on display in the residence.” (RELATED: What has the media lied about today? Find out the latest at NewsFakes.com)
In 2012, the British Embassy in Washington informed Mediaite that what it possessed was the bust that was lent to Bush: “When that administration came to an end so did the loan; the bust now resides in the British Ambassador’s Residence in Washington, DC.”
In December 2015, Sir Peter Westmacott, who was ending his stint as the British ambassador to the U.S., told The Guardian that the Churchill bust in the Oval Office was only there on loan to the Bush administration.
“So, to be honest, we always expected that to leave the Oval office just like everything else that a president has tends to be changed,” he said.
Much earlier, in a January 2010 report by CBS News, White House Curator William Allman said the decision to turn the bust back over to the British was made before Obama ever came into the White House.