Turkey Grower Calls Pardon Of Cobbler (Or Is It Gobbler?) 'An Honor'

Originally published on November 21, 2012 1:54 pm

Update at 2:32 p.m. ET:

Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, President Obama clearly related his own redemption this month to the turkeys he pardoned.

"They say that life is all about second chances, and this November I could not agree more," he said at the pardon ceremony. "The American people have spoken, and these birds are moving forward."

And like any turkey pardoning ceremony, it was not complete without a few topical jokes. This year, the president referenced a Facebook poll hosted by the White House for Americans to vote for their favorite turkey.

"For the first time in our history, the winners of the White House turkey pardon were chosen through a highly competitive online vote. And once again, Nate Silver completely nailed it. The guy's amazing. He predicted these guys would win."

After dispensing with the levity, Obama said he and his family will take two turkeys "who were not so lucky" to a local food bank in Washington, and reminded Americans to help those in need this season, especially those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Then, back to the main event. As two poultry wranglers restrained him, Cobbler let out a few loud gobbles directed at the audience. Sasha declined to pet him.

"You are hereby pardoned," the president told the bird. "Congratulations, Cobbler. You're going to have a great life."

Update at 12:00 p.m. ET:

Per this tweet from NPR's Ari Shapiro, the White House announced that both turkeys, Cobbler and his alternate Gobbler, will be pardoned at this afternoon's ceremony. We are vigilantly monitoring developments.

Our original post:

Craig Miller has been raising turkeys on his farm near Harrisonburg, Va., for 26 years. On Wednesday, two of Miller's toms will briefly achieve national celebrity at the annual White House turkey pardoning ceremony.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Miller says. "I take it as an honor."

Miller also raises about 129,000 other turkeys a year for, well, non-pardoning purposes, he says. But in planning for the presidential festivities, he has been carefully raising this year's presidential turkeys from a flock of 40 eggs that hatched in July.

Other members of that specific flock have toured petting zoos and schools around Virginia. But according to the National Turkey Federation, the two turkeys that will make it to the White House do not attend these public events for "biosecurity reasons."

At about 19 weeks old, each tom weighs roughly 40 pounds, which Miller says is typical for male turkeys.

The presidential turkeys are almost always male, even though the turkeys most Americans carve up on Thanksgiving are female. Miller says this may be because the toms' white plumage makes for a better photo op.

"They get pretty," he says. "They strut. They're more photogenic, you might say."

Presidents have been officially pardoning turkeys since at least 1989. And though it's a tongue-in-cheek event, this year there's even a Change.org petition asking the president to abolish the turkey pardoning ceremony, which the petition says "makes no sense and lacks compassion."

The gobbling duo arrived in the nation's capital on Monday and are staying in a room at the posh W Hotel until their clemency hearing on Wednesday, upon Obama's return from his Asia trip.

The White House has dubbed them Gobbler and Cobbler, and is soliciting Facebook votes to decide which one is America's sweetheart.

Both turkeys will go from the White House Rose Garden ceremony to nearby Mount Vernon, home of the nation's first president, where they will live out their days with their feathered brethren.

Emma Roller is an intern on NPR's Washington Desk.

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