Jimmy Carter Wouldn’t Go on ‘Letterman’ So Letterman Ambushed Him Instead
Let’s be abundantly clear — just because it worked out for David Letterman, doesn’t mean that anyone else should ever attempt to “ambush” a U.S. president.
On April 2, 1985, the late-night legend accosted former president Jimmy Carter as he prepared for an interview on a proper news program across the hall from the Late Night soundstage at NBC Studios in New York. After Carter had declined such an appearance on Letterman’s own show, the Late Night host took matters into his own hands and embarked on a mission of guerrilla journalism to surprise the genial statesman. Letterman brought with him a human shield from his technical crew to absorb the awkwardness of walking in on the 39th president in his dressing room — and, presumably, to toss in front of the Secret Service in case things went south.
The always affable Carter graciously accepted the impromptu meet-and-greet, making Letterman one of the few men in history to sneak up on a president and get a handshake instead of handcuffs.
Carter made small-talk about his daughter Amy’s prior appearance on Late Night and snuck in a plug for his book The Blood of Abraham before bidding Letterman and his fall guy goodbye. Though it’s cynically astute to assume that the meeting was pre-planned given the Secret Service’s decidedly lax reaction to a camera crew waltzing up to a president’s dressing room, it’s more fun to imagine that Letterman pulled off the stunt simply on charisma and curiosity.
Letterman and Carter would reconnect over 30 years later to launch a Habitat for Humanity building blitz in Letterman’s native Indiana, one of many such projects the former president undertook as a part of the nonprofit. With the recent news that the 98-year-old politician has entered hospice care, his legacy will likely continue to be examined in the media in the coming weeks, and we thought it only fitting that the conversation about the man and his contributions to his country include the impromptu and delightful interview.
Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s not forget the time Stephen Colbert ambushed George Bush.