Monday, February 7, 2011

Fishing Presidents: Jimmy Carter and the killer rabbit

The sixth in a series of Fishing Presidents. Today, Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Carter fishing and fighting a rabbit from a canoe in April 1979.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. government archives.
Jimmy Carter produced what is no doubt the all-time fishing story in presidential history. It is a story about how the presidency got away. And it's all true.

In April of 1979, Carter was fishing from a skiff on his farm pond in Plains, Ga., when an enraged rabbit started swimming at him. Carter was alone in the skiff, so Secret Service couldn't help. He was on his own to fight off the angry critter.

The above photo, released by the government archives many years later, shows Carter with a fishing rod in his left hand and a paddle in his right. It looks like he's splashing the water with the paddle to ward off the rabbit, which can be seen retreating off to the right.

The Killer Rabbit
Upon returning to the White House, Carter told the story of the rapid rabbit. His staff didn't believe him. A swimming, attacking rabbit? Yeah, right. For proof, he produced the above photo taken by a White House photographer, and even had the rabbit enlarged (at right). 

As it turned out, Carter would have been better off keeping this fish story to himself.

Sometime before the 1980 Democratic Convention, Jody Powell, Carter's press secretary, inexplicably leaked the story to the Associated Press and all the media started asking questions.

"It was a fairly robust-looking rabbit who was swimming, apparently with no difficulty," Carter told reporters, adding that had the animal gotten into the skiff it would have been "an unpleasant situation for me and the rabbit."

Carter told Sam Donaldson of ABC News, "Rabbits swim and that one was swimming without any difficulty at all. I can certify to that."

The story became front-page news. Headlines about Carter fighting a "Banzai Bunny" or "Killer Rabbit" ran rampant. Carter was the butt of many jokes on Capital Hill. Carter's popularity was already waning. Many thought this incident destroyed whatever chance he had left for reelection because of the negative publicity about the killer rabbit.

Truth be told, Carter is quite the fisherman. He is probably a close second to Herbert Hoover for his love of being outdoors and fishing. He's even written about it in a book like Hoover did.

Only Hoover doesn't have a fish story that includes a killer rabbit.

Next week: George Bush Jr. and Sr.
Herbert Hoover
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Gerald Ford

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Other interesting posts on Outdoors 720:
Man gets sentenced to life ... without fishing
IGFA offers new world-record fishing category: Length
Fishing from a Cliff: Did he have enough line to reach the water?
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