It was August 1979, and President Jimmy Carter was taking some time off before the 1980 campaign began in earnest. He was fishing on a lake near his home in Plains, Ga., when he was attacked by a killer rabbit.
That's the story that Jody Powell, Carter's press secretary, told the news media at the time. And even though many doubted Carter, the White House photographer, who happened to be there, snapped a picture showing the incident.
In 2015, Carter retold the story to Howard Kurtz.
“Wild rabbits … all of them know how to swim,” the former president explained. The rabbit, being chased by hounds, leapt into the water and began swimming toward his boat. Carter used a paddle to shoo the bunny away.
“There was nothing to it,” Carter told Kurtz. “When Jody told it, it became a very humorous and still lasting story. Lots of people that had tame bunny rabbits threw them in swimming pools and said their rabbits could swim, too.”
Here's what the actual incident looked like:
And here's how the news portrayed it:
The episode, which became a huge deal, influenced how voters perceived Carter — and not in a good way. Wrote WNYC in a 2014 piece on Rabbit-gate:
Carter, who'd grown up in the country, calmly used his paddle to splash water at the critter and scare it away. But a photo of the encounter that the White House unwisely released to the press made the president look somewhat comical and small. How was a guy who let a rabbit get the drop on him supposed to guard the U.S. from attack by the Soviet Union?
I didn't know about the rabbit incident until this week. But The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold and Carlos Lozada, this week's contestants on Ciquizza, knew it immediately. (They are two smart dudes!) In this week's Ciquizza, they also tried to name as many Democratic National Committee chairmen as they could in 10 seconds, worked to puzzle out my haikus in the news and debate what city is called the “Yellow Rose of Texas.”