How a TV station’s amateur reporting led to racist joke

A San Francisco area TV station is getting an unwarranted free pass now that the National Transportation Safety Board has acknowledged that a summer intern “confirmed” the names of the pilots in charge of Asiana Flight 214, the one that crashed last week on a San Francisco runway.

The names, of course, were offensive and obviously some person’s idea of a joke.

Last night, the NTSB issued this news release:

The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots of Asiana flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6.

Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft.

The NTSB does not release or confirm the names of crewmembers or people involved in transportation accidents to the media. We work hard to ensure that only appropriate factual information regarding an investigation is released and deeply regret today’s incident.

Appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that such a serious error is not repeated.

It’s a pity the TV station isn’t owning up to its role in the debacle because its role appears much more substantial than just a summer intern who didn’t want to appear to be uninformed.

The station — KTVU — said all the usual things after the incident, but declined to say anything more than that.

“Nothing is more important to us than having the highest level of accuracy and integrity, and we are reviewing our procedures to ensure this type of error does not happen again,” the station manager said.

What else is there? For one thing, the station could reveal how it got the names in the first place. Did someone in the newsroom just make them up? For another, it could explain why it went to the NTSB to get “confirmation,” when the NTSB isn’t the place to go for that sort of thing. The NTSB doesn’t much care about names and even when it finishes an investigation and releases a mountain of evidence, the names of pilots and crew aren’t part of the docket.

The probe into the Owatonna plane crash a few years ago provides an example (see pdf document). It’s 135 pages long. No names are included.

Why the TV station chose to go to a poor source for confirmation, the station isn’t saying.

It may well be that the newspeople in the TV station didn’t know the NTSB was a poor place to turn for confirmation, which highlights a growing problem in journalism: inexperienced people covering major stories without any real qualifications. It’s the predictable byproduct of the purge of the veteran journalist from many news organizations.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the debacle is that no one at the station noticed that Wong, Lo, Fuk, and Ow are not Korean names.

By the way, the pilot’s name is Lee Gang-guk, and the co-pilot was Lee Jeong-min. The Associated Press had reported the names four days before the San Francisco TV station’s big scoop. It did so the old-fashioned way: by calling the appropriate source — the airline — and asking.

  • Dave

    Am I racist if I laughed really hard at that? On the other hand, the news director and maybe the producer should by heavily reprimanded. That is some fierce stupidity.

    • tboom

      Am I hopelessly humorless if I didn’t laugh at all? It didn’t seem particularly funny to me on any level.

  • PJM

    I’m certainly no expert, but I believe that Korean names have the family
    name first, in which case Wi, Ho, and Bang are real names (according to wikipedia).

    how no one caught this, especially considering someone had to type it
    out to make the graphic that they displayed, is beyond ridiculous.

    • mark

      yeah that’s correct, which is why Park Chan-ho became Chan-ho Park when he came to the US

  • tboom

    Don’t announcers read-through their script before going on air, especially when there are names in the story? Seems like a “wait a minute, this can’t be right” moment.
    >> … inexperienced people covering major stories without any real qualifications. >> — ya get what you pay for.

  • John O.

    There’s ample stupidity/blame on both sides. The intern should have enough brains to say “no” to any reporter’s request and refer them to an appropriate spokesperson. And the reporter should have enough brains to be able to figure out from the spelling of the names being “confirmed” that he/she is being punked. It is fierce stupidity.

  • mark

    I especially like pundits offering opinions on the Korean peninsula who refer to the supreme leader of North Korea as “Un” or the UN Secretary General as “Moon”. They themselves so completely as well as the overall vapidity of tv news in general.

  • X.A. Smith

    How did they just happen to place them in the most logical conversational order?

  • GMan

    This is a major market TV station and the reporters and anchors should be very experienced. This is (sadly) a scene right out of the movie Anchorman.

  • Tasra

    “It’s the predictable byproduct of the purge of the veteran journalist from many news organizations.” Yes. Makes me think of Season 5 of The Wire, which highlights this loss of experience as well as anything I’ve seen/read.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    A couple thoughts.

    It’s too bad this will put a dent in the NTSB’s reputation. But that’s life.

    I can’t excuse a reporter from going to a source any other than a company to confirm whether or not someone works there. But I wonder if part of why he/she did was because of how visible the NTSB has been and how relatively invisible Asiana’s PR response has been. With NTSB briefings every day giving a wealth of information, whatever Asiana is doing has been relegated to the background. Perhaps the reporter just thought the board was the source for all information relating to the crash. Which is still stupid an inexcusable.