Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: In 1995 an embarrassing conversation between a lighthouse and an aircraft carrier was recorded by the Chief of Naval Operations, the transcript of which leaked out to the general public.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1998]
Variations: A UK version presents this dialogue as a communication between a "British Naval ship and the Irish, off the coast of Kerry."
Origins: The story of the self-important aircraft carrier captain getting his well-earned comeuppance at the hands of a plain-speaking lighthouse has been making the rounds on the Internet since early 1996. Most writeups purport to be transcripts of a 1995 conversation between a ship and a lighthouse as documented by Chief of Naval Operations.
It ain't true. Not only does the Navy disclaim it, the anecdote appears in a 1992 collection of jokes and tall tales. Worse, it appears in Stephen Covey's 1989 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and he got it from a 1987 issue of Proceedings, a publication of the
It's far older than that, as this sighting from a 1939 book shows:
The fog was very thick, and the Chief Officer of the tramp steamer was peering over the side of the bridge. Suddenly, to his intense surprise, he saw a man leaning over a rail, only a few yards away.Even older, a one-panel 1931 cartoon that appeared in the Canadian newspaper The Drumheller Review (but listing The Humorist of London, England as its source) displayed two men arguing through megaphones, one standing on the bridge of a ship, the other on the exterior walkway of a lighthouse, above this bit of dialogue:
"You confounded fool!" he roared. "Where the devil do you think your ship's going? Don't you know I've got the right of way?"
Out of the gloom came a sardonic voice:
"This ain't no blinkin' ship, guv'nor. This 'ere's a light'ouse!"
Skipper: Where are you going with your blinking ship?Slightly different versions of the e-mailed account name different ships as the one which unwillingly gained a lesson in the unimportance of self importance. Having debunked this tale a few times themselves, the U.S. Navy has a web page about this legend, one that answers what three of the commonly cited ships were doing at the time this supposedly occurred.
The Other: "This isn't a blinking ship. It's a lighthouse!"
The Navy's take on this crazy bit of faxlore is contained in the following 1996 newspaper article:
The source of that story, which the Navy swears is untrue, is not known. It's a joke that has been floating around for at leastIn March 2008, Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence in the U.S., opened his remarks to The Johns Hopkins University's Foreign Affairs Symposium with the lighthouse story, claiming, "Now this
But for the past four months the story of the ship and the lighthouse has been passed along, as gospel, by comedy talk-show hosts, lazy newspaper columnists and clueless cyberspace jockies until it has taken on an air of the apocryphal. It clings to Navy lore like that old captain from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." And, like Coleridge's haunted captain, the Navy is having a real tough time getting this albatross off its neck.
This week the story was repeated by The New York Times News Service, quoting a Canadian newspaper. Last week it was read to a global radio audience on Michael Feldman's popular Whad'ya Know? program on Public Radio International. Earlier, the same network's Car Talk program aired the tale.
In the story's
Various versions carry little embellishments. An amateur-radio buff communicating via the Internet said it happened in Puget Sound. A columnist in the Montreal Gazette said it happened last fall off the coast of Newfoundland. A columnist in North Carolina quoted a local man as saying it happened off the Carolinas.
"It's a totally bogus story, but over the last four months we've gotten at least 12, maybe
"The first time I heard of it
Dutifully, when all those reports about the carrier Enterprise began to surface, the Navy had to follow procedures and check it out.
"Yes, we talked to the Enterprise," Wensing said. "It was like, "We've heard this story and we're pretty sure that it's without
For the record,
Of the many flaws in the recent version, the most glaring is that there is no longer a radio
Westfall said he, too, had heard the story for years, but he had a different understanding of its origin.
"I always thought," he said, "it was just something one of us Coasties had made up to poke fun at the Navy."
Barbara "misdirected intelligence" Mikkelson
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