Carter had gone on a solo fishing expedition in his hometown of Plains, Georgia when the rabbit approached his boat, "hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared and making straight for the president", trying desperately to enter the boat, causing Carter to flail at the swimming creature with the oars from his boat.
Upon returning to his office, Carter found his staff disbelieving of his story, insisting that rabbits couldn't swim, or that they would never approach a person threateningly. However, it was later confirmed that a White House photographer had in fact captured the incident on-camera.
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. 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 another revival.
In Press Secretary Powell's 1986 book The Other Side of the Story, he recounted the story as follows:
The incident with the rabbit became fodder for those illustrating Carter's presidency as hapless and enfeebled.