If a reality TV star’s latest version of events is to be believed, the media tale of former President Barak Obama eating a bear-killed salmon while on his 2015 global-warming tour of Alaska appears even more bizarre than first reported here.
Bear Grylls, the star of a show called “Running Wild,” has finally admitted the White House disproved of his feeding Obama a salmon found dead on a 49th state riverbank, and instead arranged to have a commercially caught fish prepared for Obama to consume during an appearance on Grylls’s show.
That much was long ago reported here while an unquestioning mainstream media now regularly worried about “fake news” was ignoring White House protocols designed to protect presidents from poisoning and happily running with a story about how Grylls, who gained fame by eating things most people wouldn’t touch, fed a “bear-killed salmon” to then-President Obama.
And Grylls is still claiming that is what happened, but only after he sidestepped Secret Service orders and slipped the most powerful man in the world a chunk of the dead fish. This despite Obama, according to Grylls, being surrounded by more than 60 agents while visiting Exit Glacier near Seward.
Out of sight
There is no way to independently confirm the story, which differs from earlier versions told by Grylls and media accounts at the time which ignored the safety checks on the president’s diet and swallowed whole the fish story.
Grylls’s confession to ignoring Secret Service orders came on the nationally syndicated talk show Live with Kelly and Ryan in March of last year, but appears to have been noticed by almost no one. The YouTube link to the segment indicates less than 33,000 views.
Grylls told his hosts that “he found this half-eaten, chewed salmon from a bear in Alaska” (and thought) this is great…what’s trash for one animal is great for us,” but he then admitted the Secret Service didn’t like the idea of his serving the president an Alaska version of roadkill.
“The Secret Service said, ‘Well, we’ve got the chef. He (the president) never eats or drinks on TV. We’ll provide a salmon,'” Grylls said. “I thought, ‘OK.’ And he goes, ‘We’ll just switch it out when you get to that bit.’
“So we’re in the middle of the mountains. This poor chef and all this stuff has trekked with us for miles carrying this silver platter (that) covered it, and then I was cooking the carcass and doing it, and I could see off-camera, the guy.”
Grylls than waved his arms to illustrate “the guy” motioning “no,” and whispered the words, as if someone else was talking, “I’ve got the salmon.”
All of this – “the guy” waving his arms to tell Grylls to cut in order to substitute the properly prepared salmon and the Secret Service orders that the president was not to been handed food of unknown origin – the British actor claims to have ignored.
His response to the direction to stop was, he said, “Right.
“I’m just gonna wing it, and Obama was great. He just (dug) into the carcass while the guy’s going…no, no.”
In the interview, Grylls then waved his hands up and down as if the “guy” saying no-no was pointing at the platter of salmon Obama was supposed to be eating, and then Grylls joked about the affair:
“So this beautiful salmon traveled a long way, and getting by the Secret Service in the end.”
Reality TV began as fake documentaries before fake news became a thing. The mainstream media started off thinking this fictional reality was cute entertainment and later came to at times invite it into the news cycle as happened when Obama visited Alaska.
A Seward observer with personal knowledge of the Grylls-Obama meet up at Exit Glacier said any claim about a chef hiking miles into the mountains is simply bull.
“They filmed just off the (Exit Glacier) path, not miles of hiking into the mountains,” the source said.
Grylls has now also told multiple versions of what happened in the filming of the show he claims was orchestrated by the Obama White House.
“They approached us, saying would we consider taking the president on an adventure to Alaska,” he told England’s Daily Mail back in 2015. “I almost didn’t really believe it. I thought this was a spoof.”
According to that Daily Mail story, “the TV host (also) revealed that at one point, the president’s food inspector secretly sought to swap out a piece of raw salmon that had been picked over by a bear for pre-cooked fish, but Obama went with the bloody leftovers instead.”
In the Kelly and Ryan segment, the swap Grylls describes is anything but secret. He admits to being clearly told the White House had arranged for a swap.
Whether it actually took place, only Grylls, Obama and those on the scene at the time know.
Grylls has been busy talking; the others have remained silent.
If a swap was planned and events then happened unexpectedly, as Grylls portrayed on Kelly and Ryan, it is unlikely the Secret Service was happy about the president being handed possibly contaminated Alaska seafood, given you never really know what killed a salmon whose carcass is found dead on a stream bank and given the presidential history with Alaskan-supplied seafood.
Some historians implicated possibly tainted Alaska seafood in the 1923 death of President Warren G. Harding halfway through his first term.
“The cause of death was first announced by doctors as a stroke, later modified as a probable heart attack,” June Allen writes at the website of the Alaska Historical Society.“He had been feeling ill for at least a week before his death, complaining of severe stomach cramps. Then it was thought perhaps he had suffered shellfish poisoning from tainted crabs eaten on the return voyage after a long expedition through the wilds of Alaska. There was even a rumor that the bad shellfish might have been provided by irate Alaskan fishermen.”
Harding came to Alaska to drive the golden spike signaling the completion of the Alaska Railroad connecting Anchorage and Fairbanks. It was at the time the only direct overland connection between the two communities. The now popular, 323-mile George Parks Highway between the state’s two largest cities was still decades in the future.
Why Alaska fishermen would want Harding dead is unclear, but Alaska salmon runs were at a low in the early 1920s and federal fishery managers were being blamed. Catches, according to a state history, had fallen from near 100 million to less than 50 million.
And territorial managers were accused of playing favorites.
“Federal agencies were not consistent in enforcing fishing efficiency across Alaska,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s official history of commercial fishing notes. “They encouraged technological advances in boats and gear in some areas of Alaska; at the same time they adopted regulations to reduce efficiency in others.
“For example, in Bristol Bay, commercial salmon fishing was restricted to sailboats, yet highly efficient fish traps were allowed for commercial salmon fishing in several other areas of Alaska.”
In Harding’s case, Allen wrote, the Alaska seafood was of unknown origin.
“Shellfish was suspected. But in hindsight no one could remember how the crabs had been delivered or by whom,” she wrote. “And no one else became ill although many of the party had eaten crab.
“When the ship docked at Vancouver B.C., the president managed to address a crowd of some 40,000 well-wishers, but he was still feeling weak and ill. More problems were to arise.”
Days later, Harding ended up dead.
Whether the salmon Obama ate actually was a carcass Grylls picked up along a streambank and slipped the president despite directions from the Secret Service not to do that or a commercially caught fish supplied by Icicle Seafoods in Seward and prepared by a chef, Obama’s taste of it caused no reported ill effects, and he is alive and well today.
In a YouTube segment for the Discovery Channel to promote the Grylls-Obama outing in 2015 – a video seen by about 1.4 million people more than the Ryan and Kelly video – Grylls told another, slightly different version of the story about the salmon “half-eaten by a bear,” though the carcass clearly isn’t half-eaten and looks as likely to have been found dead along a stream bank and partially skinned for effect.
At the end of the earlier YouTube pitch, Grylls says that while he was cooking the salmon “the guy who checks all (the president’s) food is safe is coming and watching me like a hawk. And it turns out, the White House actually has a very strict policy about the president not being seen to eat anything on camera, let alone a half-eaten salmon.
“I sort of expected the President’s food adviser to, you know, step in and stop the filming, but I kind of think he was, you know, following the president’s lead.”
By the time Grylls got on Ryan and Kelly, the “as it turns out” had changed to Grylls being explicitly told the rules beforehand, and the “food adviser” or some “guy” was signaling Grylls to tell him not to feed the president the “half-eaten salmon” in violation of that “very strict policy,” which doesn’t appear to have been very strict if Obama did actually eat salmon prepared by Grylls.
That Obama partook of the carcass of a dead salmon found on a stream bank is the only part of the story to which Grylls has consistently stuck. So maybe it is true the salmon carcass succeeded in “getting by the Secret Service in the end.”
And maybe Grylls whole story is made up.
Whichever the case, the mainstream media – which one would think should be well aware the Secret Service keeps an eye on what the president eats – took Grylls’s claims and ran with them as fact in 2015.
The New York Times reported the president “ate a salmon prechewed by a bear” and “went trekking in the Alaska wild.”
The Washington Post at least got the hike right – “though some publications said Obama trekked through wilderness with Bear (Grylls), the two strolled a short distance – about a 10 or 15 minute walk from the parking lot” – but also swallowed the claim of Obama and Grylls nibbling “on salmon that had been gnawed on by a bear.”
No one reported the duo being accompanied by a chef carrying a covered, silver platter of salmon properly prepared for the president or even hinted at that possibility.
What isn’t reported
At least two Alaska reporters were aware the White House had obtained a salmon from Icicle in Seward and that the fish had been prepared for Obama by chefs before the Grylls trek, but the separate news organizations for which they worked chose not to publish that information.
The Alaska media generally stayed on script for Obama’s carefully controlled global-warming tour of the north. The only new organization to cast shade on the outing was Alaska Public Media, which did note some of what wasn’t being reported.
“The headlines and nightly news coverage of the president’s visit have stayed mostly positive,” APM said. “But on Twitter, over email lists, and in wry internal reports, journalists complained about a lack of legitimate opportunities to question the administration’s policies.”
Hannah Colton, a 24-year-old public radio reporter in Dillingham at the time, went so far as to call out the White House for a staged and phony photo-op of Obama with some Alaska Natives supposedly drying salmon.
Some of the strips of fish hanging off a slapped together “drying rack” positioned on a rainy, Bristol Bay beach appeared to be fresh while others appeared to have already been smoked.
“No one would be drying their fish on Kanakanak Beach, in the rain, in September,” Colton said at the time. She has since left the Alaska media to work at the public radio station at the University of New Mexico.
Obama’s only unscripted contact with Alaska media came when he had dinner at the home of Alice Rogoff, then the publisher of the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN). The state’s largest newspaper, the ADN did not cover the gathering or disclose what was discussed with Obama.
The totality of what ADN reported was this:
“President Obama had dinner Monday night at the South Anchorage home of Alaska Dispatch News publisher Alice Rogoff.
“Rogoff, who has been acquainted with the president for several years, described it as a private dinner featuring an Alaska-grown menu. She did not disclose who attended the dinner or how many guests were invited.
“‘It was a chance for the president to have a conversation with a diverse group of Alaskans,’ Rogoff said. Because it was a private dinner, no guest list will be distributed, she said. She described it as a ‘non-political event.'”
Anyone who believes no politics were discussed would probably believe a reality TV show star fed the president of the United States flesh from the carcass of a dead salmon found on an Alaska stream bank while the Secret Service stood idly by and watched.
Or that reality news is real – not fake.