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    Wednesday
    Jan262011

    Jimmy Carter Attacked By Swimming Rabbit

    While pond fishing in Plains, Georgia in the spring of 1979, Jimmy Carter reported to his staff that he was confronted by a swimming rabbit and further claimed that the animal was intent on getting into the President's boat. Described as, "fairly robust," the rabbit was swimming "without any difficulty".
      
    The White House staff didn't believe the President at first. However, as far fetched as the story seemed, the scene was captured by a White House photographer -- and the president himself ordered that a print be made to prove the skeptics wrong. The below photo is courtesy of the Carter Presidential Library:
     
     
    Carter's late Press Secretary Jody Powell described hearing about the incident in his 1986 book The Other Side of the Story:
    The President was sitting with a few of us on the Truman Balcony. He had recently returned from a visit to Plains, and we were talking about homefolks and how the quail were nesting and similar matters of international import.
    Suddenly, for no apparent reason -- he was drinking lemonade, as I recall -- the President volunteered the information that while fishing in a pond on his farm he had sighted a large animal swimming toward him. Upon closer inspection, the animal turned out to be a rabbit. Not one of your cutesy, Easter Bunny-type rabbits, but one of those big splay-footed things that we called swamp rabbits when I was growing up.
    The animal was clearly in distress, or perhaps berserk. The President confessed to having had limited experience with enraged rabbits. He was unable to reach a definite conclusion about its state of mind. What was obvious, however, was that this large, wet animal, making strange hissing noises and gnashing its teeth, was intent upon climbing into the Presidential boat.
    Later describing the confrontation, Carter defended his use of a paddle to swat the ferocious animal away, "I had a paddle in the boat, so when the rabbit got closer to me to recognize it, and I saw that it was going to attempt to climb into the boat with me, I thought that would be an unpleasant situation for both me and the rabbit. I did not hit the rabbit, I just splashed water toward him and he finally veered his course." Upon close inspection, Carter's adroit use of his paddle to fend off the rabbit can be seen in the photo, as well as a clear view of the intruder:
     
     
    Powell, for reasons still unknown today, leaked the story to the press later in 1979 -- a move that ensured severe national embarrassment for the President. The former press secretary describes leaking the story and the aftermath: 
    Several months later I was chatting with Brooks Jackson, one of the White House correspondents for the Associated Press, over a cup of tea, as I remember. For reasons that I still do not fully understand, I told him about the President and the rabbit. I was the one who leaked the killer rabbit story.

    Although an experienced reporter, Brooks also failed to appreciate the significance of what he had heard. He did not rush to file an "urgent" story. In fact, he continued the conversation for some period of time and several more cups of tea. Not until the next day did he get around to sending this gripping account out over the wires to a waiting public. And even then it was a pleasant, lighthearted piece. Although he may not admit it now, I had the definite impression at the time that Brooks thought it was nothing more than a mildly amusing incident, too.

    We were soon corrected. The Washington Post, exercising the news judgement that we in the White House had come to appreciate so keenly, headed the piece President Attacked by Rabbit and ran it on the front page. The more cautious New York Times boxed it on page A-12. That night, all three networks found time to report the amazing incident. But that was just the beginning...

    ...It was a nightmare. The story ran for more than a week. The President was repeatedly asked to explain his behavior at town hall meetings, press conferences, and meetings with editors...

    ...There was talk of a suit under the Freedom of Information Act to force release of the picture showing the President, paddle and rabbit in close proximity...

    ...Shortly after the Reagan administration took office, they stumbled upon a copy of the picture -- apparently while searching for a foreign policy -- and reopened the old wounds by releasing it to the press.

    Carter later explained to Howard Kurtz on CNN that Jody Powell was likely drunk when he spilled the beans to Brooks Jackson: 
     
     
    Dubbing the rabbit "PAWS," (JAWS was hot at the boxoffice) the press had a field day, and many cartoonists depicted the scene, like the below image from the Tri City Herald:
     

    And here's a very rare JAWS parody movie poster from 1980:

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