Will this year's Thanksgiving turkey pardon be different?
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After a dust-up last year involving the Obama daughters, the White House’s annual Thanksgiving turkey pardoning could see increased attention in 2015, but don’t expect things to change for the birds at center stage.

Once again, President Obama will “pardon” two lucky turkeys, at the 68th annual presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey. As ever, the National Turkey Federation (NTF) says, the favored fowls come from a flock specially bred just for the occasion and, spared a leading role on the dinner table, will retire to a life of comfort in Virginia.

They are prepared for their 15 minutes of fame by being exposed to bright camera lights, being around crowds of people and practicing standing on a table.

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“We play music to get them accustomed to large settings,” said Joe Hedden of Foster Farms in Modesto, Calif., in an NTF video. This year’s turkeys are apparently country fans.

“The other morning we were changing [radio] channels back and forth, and when we came across a country song — a country station — they all started gobbling. So we chose to leave a country station on, and that’s what they seem to respond the best to.”

The flock of Nicholas White turkeys have their own playlist, which includes “Hey, Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams and the U.S. Marine Corps band’s “Hail to the Chief.” They even have their own Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts, where followers can see pictures and videos of the presidential turkey candidates.

The presentation of the National Turkey is a tradition that began when the NTF first presented President Harry Truman with a live turkey in 1947, though some say the idea dates as far back as President Abraham Lincoln’s administration.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, when Lincoln’s son, Tad, befriended a turkey that was intended to be the main course of the White House Christmas dinner in 1863, the president granted the bird immunity and allowed Tad to keep it as a pet.

And while the tradition of presenting live turkeys to the president for Thanksgiving has been going on since Truman, President George H.W. Bush was the first to engage in the practice of actually pardoning the birds in 1989 — though it’s unclear whether any of them committed a crime for which they could be pardoned.

That may be why Obama admitted last year to being slightly “puzzled” about the tradition’s endurance.

And after a moment of gazing at the pardoned bird, he said, “I will tell you, though, turkeys don’t have the best-looking heads.”

His daughters, Sasha and Malia, spent last year’s ceremony standing quietly off to the side looking as if they would rather be somewhere else. When their father asked whether they wanted to pet the turkeys, Malia demurred with a quick “nah.” 

The two bored teenagers apparently touched a nerve with their lack of interest in the tradition. Social media lit up after the event, and one Republican congressional staffer criticized them in a Facebook post for making “faces during televised, public events.” The staffer later apologized and resigned.

Others still cherish the pardon as a holiday tradition.

“For the nation, the presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey signals the unofficial beginning of the holiday season and providing President Obama and the nation an opportunity to reflect publicly on the meaning of Thanksgiving and the many blessings on this nation throughout history,” Keith Williams, an NTF spokesman, told The Hill.

The Obamas will also receive two dressed — and very un-pardoned — turkeys that they will donate to local food banks for the holiday.

Last year’s pardoned turkeys, deliciously named Mac and Cheese, were pitted against each other in a social media contest to determine which would win the title of National Thanksgiving Turkey.

Cheese, weighing in at 49 pounds with a 4.5-foot wingspan, came out on top, but one can imagine that 47-pound Mac was just happy to avoid the cranberry dressing.

In their profiles on the White House website, Cheese’s gobble is described as being “loud, romantic, with a country ring to it,” while Mac (who reportedly died in July) had more of a “rhythmic, melodious” gobble “with a touch of bluegrass.”

The presidential flock of turkeys at Foster Farms will be narrowed down based on their “plumage, posture, personality, sociability and manners,” according to the NTF website.

Like Mac and Cheese before them, the two turkeys that will be pardoned this year will spend their retirement in Morven Park’s Turkey Hill Farm in Leesburg, Va.

“They’ll get to live out the rest of their days respectably at a Virginia estate,” Obama said of Mac and Cheese last year. “Some would call this ‘amnesty,’ but there’s plenty of turkey to go around.”