This week’s entry: Jimmy Carter’s rabbit incident
What it’s about: A pivotal moment in American history took place on April 20, 1979, when our 39th president was on a fishing trip near his hometown of Plains, Georgia, and was attacked by an oversized, swimming rabbit. Months after the fact, the White House press secretary mentioned the incident. It’s been part of presidential lore ever since.
Strangest fact: How about, “Jimmy Carter was attacked by a giant swimming rabbit”? When Carter returned from the fishing trip, he recounted to CNN in 2010, a rabbit “jumped in the water and swam toward my boat. When he got almost there, I splashed some water with a paddle,” which is the closest the Carter administration ever got to, “Get off my plane!” The White House staff refused to believe that rabbits could swim or approach someone threateningly, but a photographer along for the trip got the beast on film, confirming the story.
Biggest controversy: As our current president has learned time and time again, the media will seize on literally anything it can criticize, and 1979’s news media was no different, as The Washington Post ran a front-page headline, “President Attacked By Rabbit,” complete with a Jaws parody illustration (as the White House had not yet released a photo). The story was used time and again by journalists and political opponents who wanted to portray Carter as hapless and ineffectual.
Thing we were happiest to learn: The rabbit incident makes Wikipedia’s list of Carter administration controversies, just underscoring how relatively scandal-free that administration was. Of only nine links on that page, one implicates the mere existence of Billy Carter; one involves Bert Lance, who resigned from Carter’s administration after a banking scandal but was later cleared of all charges; and on the short list, the only truly serious event was the Iran hostage crisis.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: There actually are large, mildly violent, swimming rabbits out there. Called swamp rabbits, they’re the largest variety of cottontail, weighing in at 4 to 5-and-a-half pounds, and while they aren’t man-eaters by any stretch (they’re in fact herbivores), rival males will sometimes fight each other to the death, using their teeth and sharp hind claws.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: The Jaws Wikipedia page describes Steven Spielberg’s classic thriller with a fantastic, detailed overview of the making of one the best-loved films of all time.
Further down the wormhole: The year after the incident, folk singer Tom Paxton commemorated it in a song called “I Don’t Want A Bunny Wunny.” Among the long list of well-known artists who have covered Paxton’s non-rabbit-related works is the legendary Pete Seeger. Best known for penning standards including “If I Had A Hammer,” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and as well as popularizing “We Shall Overcome,” “Sloop John B,” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” Seeger was a giant of American music. He left his influential 1950s group, The Weavers, when they agreed to perform a jingle for a cigarette commercial. Next week we’ll look at tobacco advertising, which was tremendously influential on the ad world even while being willfully misleading.