A major White House gaffe insults Berlusconi

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A glaring mistake by White House staff is reverberating globally today.

The White House distributed a briefing book to reporters traveling with President Bush to the G-8 summit in Japan. The press charter left on Friday en route for the island of Hokkaido. Reporters would have been given the books as they boarded the plane, as is the custom on foreign trips with the president.

The book, however, included a biography of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that said he was “regarded by many as a political dilettante (amateur) who gained his high office only through use of his considerable influence on the national media.”

The White House briefing book had used a biography from the Encyclopedia of World Biography, according to the Associated Press. Mr. Berlusconi’s page on that Web site is no longer available.

The bio in the briefing book, however, said that Mr. Berlusconi, who was elected to the post of prime minister for the third time this year, was “hated by many but respected by all at least for his bella figura (personal style) and the sheer force of his will.”

The bio also called the Italian leader “one of the most controversial leaders” of a country “known for governmental corruption and vice.”

The Italian government complained to the White House, calling the bio “insulting.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto apologized in a statement.

“A biography of Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi included in the press package used language that is insulting both to Prime Minister Berlusconi and to the Italian people,” he said. “We apologize to Italy and to the prime minister for this very unfortunate mistake.

“The sentiments expressed in the biography do not represent the views of President Bush, the American government, or the American people,” Mr. Fratto said.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Berlusconi have been strong allies in the past.

Jon Ward, White House correspondent, The Washington Times

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