Jimmy Carter rabbit incident

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The rabbit swimming away from the President

The Jimmy Carter rabbit incident, dubbed the "killer rabbit" attack by the media, involved a swamp rabbit that swam toward then–U.S. President Jimmy Carter's fishing boat on April 20, 1979. The incident caught press imagination after Carter's press secretary mentioned the event to a correspondent months later.


Carter had gone on a solo fishing expedition in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. According to the former president, a rabbit being chased by hounds "jumped in the water and swam toward my boat. When he got almost there, I splashed some water with a paddle."[1]

Upon returning to his office, Carter's staff did not believe his story, insisting that rabbits could not swim, or that they would never approach a person threateningly.[2] The incident was captured on footage taken by a White House photographer.[3]

Media accounts and public perception[edit]

Press Secretary Jody Powell mentioned the event to Associated Press correspondent Brooks Jackson on August 28, 1979, who filed the story with the wire service the following day. The story "President Attacked by Rabbit" was carried across the front page of The Washington Post, though the White House's refusal to release the photograph resulted in the newspaper using a cartoon parody of the Jaws poster labeled "PAWS" as its illustration.[4] The White House still refused to release the photograph of the incident to the media until it turned up during the Reagan administration and the story saw a revival.

Carter shooing away the rabbit, at far right

In Press Secretary Powell's 1986 book The Other Side of the Story, he recounted the story as follows:

“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.”

The incident with the rabbit became fodder for political and ideological opponents who wanted to frame Carter's presidency as hapless and enfeebled, although the event's proximity to the Stateside release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail led to some people describing Carter as having "fended off a killer rabbit" instead.[5]

The incident was parodied in 1980 in a song by the folk singer Tom Paxton entitled "I Don't Want a Bunny Wunny".[6]

Humor columnist Dave Barry has often referred to the "enormous swimming rabbit" incident in his writings. In Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States, he names it the uncontested single most memorable event of Carter's presidency.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Combs, Cody (2010-11-21). "Jimmy Carter explains ‘rabbit attack’". Political Ticker. CNN.com. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "President Carter and the Killer Rabbit". American Presidents Blog. January 17, 2008. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  3. ^ "President Jimmy Carter and the "killer rabbit"". narsil. April 20, 1979. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  4. ^ "What was the deal with Jimmy Carter and the killer rabbit?". The Straight Dope. November 10, 1995. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  5. ^ "Jimmy Carter's 'Killer Rabbit' – 1979". Feeding Frenzy. The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  6. ^ Paxton, Tom. "I Don't Want a Bunny Wunny". Lyrics. www.mydfz.com.