Has the White House turkey pardon jumped the shark? (+video)
The annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon, dating back to JFK, is now a highly choreographed affair, involving two turkeys, their 'bios,' and a Facebook vote to decide who gets to be the official White House bird.
Has the White House turkey pardon jumped the shark?Skip to next paragraph
Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.
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We ask this because this year’s traditional ceremony – in which President Obama will pardon a bird presumably otherwise bound for a Thanksgiving platter – is more, um, elaborate than ever. It involves two turkeys, and Facebook, and voting, and Carly Simon. This isn’t a lighter moment in a president’s otherwise heavy schedule, it’s an over-produced reality show. Call it “The Gravy Factor," or maybe “America’s Got Drumsticks."
OK, we’ll back up a moment and take this whole thing from the top. Since at least 1947, US presidents have participated in an annual event in which they receive a turkey from the National Turkey Federation in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving harvest feast.
At the beginning, these birds had a date with oyster stuffing. President Truman ate his, or at least said he was going to. President Eisenhower did the same thing.
But more recently, White Houses have decided it looks less carnivorous for them to grant the on-stage bird clemency. According to a White House history of the event, John F. Kennedy was the first to send his turkey back to the farm. “We’ll just let this one grow,” he said.
President George H. W. Bush was the first to use the actual word “pardon." He sent his turkey to live out its days at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Va., thereby indicating he had a subtler sense of humor than historians give him credit for today.
Since then the ceremony has become more and more Hollywood. Two turkeys are involved – a primary turkey and a backup in case the first bird can’t carry out its duty of continuing to live.
Enter Gobbler and Cobbler. This year, some Obama aide had the bright idea of pitting these two birds against each other in a Facebook-based voting contest. The one with the most “likes” would be named the official White House bird.