TOKAYO, Japan – Sorry about that, Silvio.
An embarrassed White House apologized on Tuesday for an "unfortunate mistake" — the distribution of less-than-flattering biography of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi at the Group of Eight summit. Still, the gaffe led to headlines in Italy.
The summary of Berlusconi was buried in a nearly inch-thick tome of background that the White House distributed at the summit of major economic powers. The press kit was handed out to the White House traveling press corps.
The biography described Berlusconi as one of the "most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for government corruption and vice."
It was just last month that Berlusconi welcomed Bush to Rome, calling him "a personal friend of mine and also a great friend of Italy." And Bush responded then: "You're right. We're good friends."
The biography, written by Encyclopedia of World Biography, said Berlusconi burst onto the political scene with no experience and used his "vast network of media holdings" to finance his campaign on a promise to "purge the notoriously lackadaisical Italian government of corruption."
The biography went on to say that Berlusconi was appointed to the prime minister's office in 1994, "however, he and his fellow Forza Italia Party leaders soon found themselves accused of the very corruption he had vowed to eradicate."
In a written apology, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the biography used insulting language.
"The sentiments expressed in the biography do not represent the views of President Bush, the American government, or the American people," he said. "We apologize to Italy and to the prime minister for this very unfortunate mistake."
Corriere della Sera, a leading Italian daily and one of several newspapers featuring the case on its front page, said: "US gaffe, then the apology."