This morning, subscribers to our newsletter read the story of our wildly embarrassing photo shoot in Central Park. Here's the short version: mental_floss has a book coming out next year called BE AMAZING "“ a how-to guide with tips on tasks like starting your own country and traveling through time. The publisher wants a publicity photo of founding _flossers Will and Mangesh, who had a few different ideas for poses. I did not write a word of this book. But since Will lives in Birmingham, I was his stunt double. So Mangesh and I donned Boy Scout outfits "“ including neckerchiefs and green cut-off pants "“ and the resulting pictures will probably keep my future kids from attending decent colleges.
On the bright side, because slipping into a Boy Scout disguise behind a tree in a public park was actually part of my job, these photos can't get me fired. Plus, I have no political ambitions. But many a politician has been stung by the regrettable photo. Our research editor Kara Kovalchik found eleven examples of pictures politicians wish were never taken.
Jimmy Carter and the Killer Swamp Rabbit
The year was 1979 "“ not a great one for Jimmy Carter. There was an Energy Crisis and a Crisis of Confidence. And a lesser-known Crisis involving swamp rabbits. From The New York Times: "A 'killer rabbit' penetrated Secret Service security and attacked President Carter on a recent trip to Plains, Ga., according to White House staff members who said that the President beat back the animal with a canoe paddle."
Carter backed off the whole "beat the animal with a paddle" part, explaining that he merely splashed water on the (killer) creature. He ordered a print of the photo, and later an enlargement, to prove his killer rabbit story. "It just played up the Carter flake factor," Carter biographer Douglas Brinkley recalled. "I mean, he had to deal with Russia and the Ayatollah and here he was supposedly fighting off a rabbit." News of the Odd has more.
Read on to see Gerald Ford battle the stairs, the downfall of Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis, and a few improbable handshakes.
Gerald Ford and the Slippery Stairs
Despite being a college football star, and a gifted athlete throughout his life, this photo left the public with a very different impression of his balance. Here, Gerald Ford does his best impression of Chevy Chase doing his best impression of Gerald Ford, courtesy of UT-Austin.
Gary Hart and the Challenge to Reporters
On Sunday, May 3, 1987, the Miami Herald published a story claiming "Miami Woman is Linked to Hart." That same weekend, E.J. Dionne had a profile of the then- frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in The New York Times Magazine, which included this infamous challenge by Hart: "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very bored."
Soon after, the Herald received this photo, which would later appear in the National Enquirer. It was taken aboard a boat hilariously named Monkey Business. Look closely and you'll see "Monkey Business Crew" written on Hart's shirt. He withdrew from the race on May 8th, only to re-enter in December. After receiving only 4% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, he called it quits for good.
Hart flirted with re-running for President in 2004. The "Miami Woman" was Donna Rice, who went on to write a book called Kids Online: Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace.
Eight more memorable shots...
Serial killer John Wayne Gacy, active in his local Democratic Party, shaking hands with future First Lady Rosalynn Carter. And we've all seen this Donald Rumsfeld-Saddam Hussein greeting from 1983.
At left, the Nixon/Presley Summit of 1970, after Elvis requested he be appointed "Federal Agent-at-Large" in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. At right, John Kerry during a 2004 visit to NASA, which reminded many people of...
...1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis cruising around in a tank. That wasn't nearly as embarrassing as Washington's Mayor Marion Barry, who was caught on tape smoking crack with a prostitute. But after six months in jail, Barry was re-elected "“ first to the city council, then to a second stint as Mayor.
And finally, any discussion of embarrassing photos can't leave out our current Commander in Chief...particularly this first chestnut of the Prez shocking German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a surprise backrub at the G8 Summit "“ a friendly gesture that took on a life of its own in cyberspace.
What other regrettable political photos are out there? Let us know and we'll do a sequel. Also, if you're interested in receiving our weekly newsletter, the sign-up box is in the left-hand navigation.