Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot: Phonetic Alphabet Reporting

What was once termed the “International Phonetic Alphabet,” but is now known as the “NATO Phonetic Alphabet,”  is used world-wide in flight operations for the purpose of avoiding garbled communication between aircraft or aircraft and controllers. So it is entirely understandable that pilots have turned to using this aid to understanding as a means of expressing volatile sentiment in coded terms, and thereby avoid slips of the tongue that might otherwise prove offensive to others or embarrassing to themselves. For example, when a fighter pilot wishes to express unbridled, enthusiastic approval he simply exclaims “Sierra Hotel!” The coded, two-letter message “S.H.” being expressed is “Shit Hot!” In a similar fashion “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot”, or “W.T.F”, expands to “What The F***?!”, which is a well-known expression of exclamatory skepticism. Hence, we have this from the “Other McCain”, though a more liberal use of the phonetic alphabet on his part would have been additionally instructive to the uninitiated:

The Spectacle Blog
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Politico?
By Robert Stacy McCain on 11.4.11 @ 10:49AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “What the [bleep] is Politico doing?” said the man on the phone. “And how the [bleep] are they getting away with this [bleep]?”

Reporters rival sailors* for their proficiency in profanity, and one of the most experienced political journalists in Washington was cussing a blue streak Thursday evening as he railed against the shoddiness of Politico’s reporting on the Herman Cain “scandal.”

Scare-quotes around the word “scandal” are necessary in that, as of Thursday night, Americans still had only vague suggestions of what it is Cain is accused of having done to women who worked at the National Restaurant Association during his tenure as president of that organization in the late 1990s.

“Five days!” yelled the veteran reporter on the phone. “Five days and what have we got? Nothing! What the [bleep] were they thinking about, running with a piece of [bleep] story like that?”


This morning at breakfast, I picked up The Washington Times and saw Wes Pruden’s column, which absolutely nailed it:

Politico, the political daily of liberal pedigree that set the hounds on Mr. Cain, has not said what he is guilty of, or when, or where, or who says so. Innuendo is enough. Politico says it has a half-dozen sources “shedding light on different aspects of the complaints.” Once upon a time, a reporter trying to get a story merely “shedding light” on “aspects” past a gruff old city editor would have been thrown down the stairs if the gruff old city editor was having a particularly bad day.

Having spent a decade working in Pruden’s newsroom, I can attest that he would have summarily fired anyone who even suggested that his newspaper publish anything as shoddy as what Politico published on Sunday. Throwing the fired employee down the stairs, however, might be considered “harassment.”

So much for that Politico story.

*Or fighter pilots for that matter. As testament to that assertion, I offer the drinking song “Jeremiah Weed” by the legendary group Dos Gringos as they performed it live at a not-to-be-named officers’ club before an enthusiastic audience of “no drinking within 50 feet of the aircraft” fighter drivers. This is definitely for mature audiences only as I’d give it a 10+ rating on the AL scale:

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The mellowing of such informal, freewheeling, and boisterous expressions of camaraderie has been fairly rapid, certainly wistful, since the Navy’s hammering of those who participated in the 1991 Tailhook celebration of their participation in Gulf War I combat. Guess we’ll have to come up with a military version of the Wiffenpoof song.


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