Too Good to Be True: The Local Fake News Story That Was Cited by US Intelligence

Snopes managed to track the potential origins of the fake news story back to a cartoon from 1931.

Long before Social Media Hearsay or Misleading Headlines spawned an era of Fake News, Snopes.com was out there on the Internet fact-checking articles for misinformation.

As an example, an image of the following text has been shared off and on by local Facebook users for years:

ACTUAL Transcript of a US Naval Ship with Canadian Authorities off the Coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995.

This radio conversation was released by the Chief of Naval Operations on 10-10-95.

Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Newfoundlanders: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Newfoundlanders: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”

Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”

Newfoundlanders: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

Sadly, Snopes gave this story a big fat Nope.

Tracing the Origin of the Fake Story

“It’s not true,” reads the entry on Snopes.com. “Not only does the Navy disclaim it, but 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.”

That popular book (and its publisher) cited its source as a 1987 issue of Proceedings, a publication of the U.S. Naval Institute.

So, the utter lie has fooled more than the odd Newfoundlander & Labradorian. The misinformation train on this folk tale rode its way right into the mouth of Mike McConnell, former Director of National Intelligence in the US.

According to Snopes, in 2008, McConnell’s opening remarks to the Johns Hopkins University’s Foreign Affairs Symposium cited this tall tale as true. “I was in the signals intelligence business where you listen to the people talk and so on,” he said. “So this is true. It’s an actual recording.”

Snopes managed to track the potential origins of the fake news story back to a cartoon from 1931. It appeared in the Canadian newspaper The Drumheller Review. The comic “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”:

Skipper: Where are you going with your blinking ship?

The Other: “This isn’t a blinking ship. It’s a lighthouse!”

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