Bush and the Turkey

I received the following email about the photo in the Hoax Photo Database of Pres. Bush holding a "Trophy Turkey" during his 2003 Thanksgiving trip to Iraq:

you claim that the turkey George Bush is holding is plastic. This urban myth has been debunked a thousand times and yet still keeps resurfacing. Even the New York Times was forced to print a retraction of this myth back in 2004... If you want to maintain a reputation for accuracy I suggest you amend the caption accordingly. The turkey was real and not plastic.

Naturally wanting to maintain my "reputation for accuracy" I immediately looked into this. The New York Times did indeed print a retraction in 2004:

Correction: July 11, 2004, Sunday. An article last Sunday about surprises in politics referred incorrectly to the turkey carried by President Bush during his unannounced visit to American troops in Baghdad over Thanksgiving. It was real, not fake.

Unfortunately, what's missing in that retraction is an explanation of what evidence made them change their mind. Who did they interview? What's the source?

I figured someone must have dug deeper into the story and found someone who was there who could attest to the fact that the turkey was real, but all I could find was a lot of conservative sites linking to that one NYT retraction. Though in my search I did come across a Turkey Dinner George Bush doll on Amazon (plastic Bush holding a plastic turkey).

Eventually I took a closer look at the Washington Post article in which Mike Allen (who traveled to Baghdad with Bush on that trip) made the original allegation about the turkey, and that's where I found it:

In the most widely published image from his Thanksgiving day trip to Baghdad, the beaming president is wearing an Army workout jacket and surrounded by soldiers as he cradles a huge platter laden with a golden-brown turkey.
The bird is so perfect it looks as if it came from a food magazine, with bunches of grapes and other trimmings completing a Norman Rockwell image that evokes bounty and security in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.
But as a small sign of the many ways the White House maximized the impact of the 21/2-hour stop at the Baghdad airport, administration officials said yesterday that Bush picked up a decoration, not a serving plate.
Officials said they did not know the turkey would be there or that Bush would pick it up. A contractor had roasted and primped the turkey to adorn the buffet line, while the 600 soldiers were served from cafeteria-style steam trays, the officials said. They said the bird was not placed there in anticipation of Bush's stealthy visit, and military sources said a trophy turkey is a standard feature of holiday chow lines.

Allen notes that the turkey was a "decoration," but he also notes that it was "roasted and primped" (i.e. it was a real bird). Apparently a lot of people (including myself and the New York Times) focused on the word "decoration," not "roasted." In fact, I had to read that paragraph several times over before I noticed the word "roasted." Funny how the mind can make us ignore some details and focus on others. Must have been my liberal, anti-Bush bias clouding my judgement.

Anyway, I've now corrected the entry in the hoax photo database. Thanks to the correspondent for correcting that error.

Photos Politics

Posted on Mon Mar 02, 2009


Just about anybody who has ever eaten in a college cafeteria on a holiday will have observed the same thing. There are the holiday decorations, turkeys or pie or cake or whatever that's on display as you move down the serving line, and then there's the food in the trays in front of you that is pre-cut and ready to go so that serving 2000 people doesn't take a day and a half. How hard is that to understand? The food on display is real food, it's just not meant to be consumed right that second. Its role is to provide the holiday atmosphere and set the mood. It's no more fake than the food in the trays. The food in the trays is just more convenient to serve to a large group.
Posted by kcom  on  Mon Oct 12, 2009  at  12:35 PM
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