TV news FAIL: KTVU anchor reads fake names for Asiana pilots, has no clue what she’s saying

(Note: KTVU attempted to use copyright law to remove this video clip even in instances, like mine, where the clip is essential to the discussion about it, for critical journalistic purposes. The station said it was removing the clips to protect the Asian community: “By now, most people have seen it. At this point, continuing to show the video is also insensitive and offensive, especially to the many in our Asian community who were offended. Consistent with our apology, we are carrying through on our responsibility to minimize the thoughtless repetition of the video by others.” It didn’t take long for the attempt to fail.)

See Updates at bottom

Seriously? San Francisco TV station KTVU aired a monster of a mess, when its anchor read the purported names of the pilots on Asiana flight 214 that crashed at San Francisco Airport. During the noon newscast, anchor Tori Campbell said the pilots were Captain Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow. Really? Seriously?

Think about it — look at the names. Use one or two brain cells. And no, they’re not even close to being Korean names. Ugh, this is as bad as it gets. It’s not funny, and it’s a sad and unfortunate reflection of the state of the news industry.

This is a tragic FAIL on a couple of levels:

1. Who would submit such a nasty, racist “news release” to media? Do they think it’s funny?

2. How could a news organization — especially in San Francisco, which is not only where the crash occurred but a city with a very large and diverse Asian population — accept this kind of claptrap without either confirming it, or just plain LOOKING AT IT? (Here’s an AP story that ran, among hundreds of papers, in the SF Examiner from July 8 that lists two of the pilots’ names as released bu Asiana.)

3. What’s the chain of evidence that sees these names when they’re submitted? Producers? Directors? Reporters? Anchors (she obviously didn’t catch it)?

I am not one of those journalists who denigrate broadcast news folks. I have lots of friends in TV and radio news, and many of them are first-rate journalists who take their profession and craft seriously. But this is just fodder for anyone who does think that TV news is where “talking heads” open their mouth without engaging their brains. Is getting the story first so freaking important now that all judgment and common sense go out the window just so you can read some names during a noon news show?

I’m waiting for some reaction from KTVU management. It better be good.


Uhh… here’s a Poynter blog post that says KTVU apologized for the error later in the same newscast but without noting the racial offensiveness of the content.

Earlier in the newscast we gave some names of pilots involved in the Asiana Airlines crash. These names were not accurate despite an NTSB official from Washington confirming them late this morning. We apologize for this error.

Several other media outlets contacted the NTSB and were told those names were not confirmed by KTVU. The official apology focuses solely on journalistic accuracy, but not the content of the “hoax,” as the station puts it. KTVU got punk’d but the deeper issue is, why are Asians always — and still — easy targets and fodder for racial hatred, stereotypes and tasteless “jokes?” Is it because we’re invisible (especially in news media) and historically we don’t complain or fight back?

I for one am mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.

Here’s the video of the apology during the noon broadcast:

Here’s Phil Yu’s response on his must-read Angry Asian Man blog.

Late today, the National Transportation Safety Board released an apology of its own: It turns out a summer intern did confirm KTVU’s list of pilots. “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 said.

This is yet another layer of incompetence to this saga. I trust the NTSB will deal with this errant intern. But it doesn’t absolve KTVU — even if someone at the NTSB confirmed the names, holy cow, wouldn’t you think there’s something not quite right, and check with someone else (like the AP article that ran a couple days ago)?

Here’s a link to the Asian American Journalists Association’s well-written statement today (full disclosure: I’m the president of AAJA’s Denver chapter).

“Words cannot adequately express the outrage we, at the Asian American Journalists Association, feel over KTVU’s on-air blunder that made a mockery of the Asiana Airlines tragedy and offended so many loyal viewers of the San Francisco Bay Area station,” AAJA national president wrote in his original statement. By the evening, that outrage had softened somewhat, though AAJA still expressed itself well:

KTVU touted itself as the leading source for accurate coverage of last Saturday’s Asiana crash. That boast took a major hit Friday when the station fell victim to a hoax that made a mockery of the tragedy and offended many loyal viewers.

During its Friday noon newscast, the station reported that it had learned the names of the four pilots in the cockpit of the ill-fated flight, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6 and killed three passengers.

Those names were not only wrong, but so grossly offensive that it’s hard for us at the Asian American Journalists Association to fathom how those names made it on the broadcast. We choose not to repeat those names.

By the end of the day, KTVU had released an unprecedented second apology that acknowledged that there were several lapses of judgment, including not sounding out the names phonetically, and not asking for the title of the NTSB staffer who confirmed the names/ The station accepts full responsibility, and apologized again.

I accept their apology, and I’m sure they’ll work really hard to make sure this embarrassing mistake never ever happens again on any of their newscasts.

Here’s AAJA National President Paul Cheung‘s personal last word on the Fuk-up.

UPDATE July 25: KTVU has reportedly fired three producers for the Asiana pilots-name gaffe.

In case the video gets taken down, here’s a screen capture:


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12 Responses to TV news FAIL: KTVU anchor reads fake names for Asiana pilots, has no clue what she’s saying

  1. phil says:

    Yes, that is really bad. It’s as if there is a plane crash in South Asia or something, and a prankster writes the pilot’s name as “Ballsack T. Baghar” and it gets past the news people.

  2. phil says:

    Howard Stern’s fans often make these kinds of puerile pranks to news stations. However, Stern himself has written in his books that sometimes the fans aren’t entirely to blame, because some news people are indeed talking heads who simply relate these bad jokes without even considering what they’re reporting, or who they are interviewing.

  3. Steve says:

    Here’s how I interacted with the “story” when it broke Friday:
    1) I laughed. Hard. I couldn’t believe the whole Fox 2 newsroom and the NTSB missed the obvious (scam). I hope I was laughing at their foolishness. Schadenfreude. Another newsroom’s “fail.” How funny.
    2) I shared it with others. We all had an “OMG” astonishment at the hoax. Watching the YouTube views click up … and fast.
    3) Then I thought about the Asian-Americans on staff at Fox 2 in Oakland. I even looked up their staff bios. A woman named Claudine Wong… how must she feel? It’s not so funny any more. With each passing hour, it got less and less funny.
    4) Then I thought about the movie “Soul Man,” the most amazing collection of “black” jokes I’ve ever seen. Was that movie funny? Did I laugh then? Yes, I did, but I obviously have issues to work out. (I’m writing as an African-American.)
    5) Then the Trayvon Martin verdict came down Saturday night, and many of us are thinking about race all over again, in new and old ways.
    6) Now I’m sharing the whole incident with some perspective, and some clarity… and your blog brought it home.

    I’m humbled and embarrassed at my own lack (or slow rate) of sensitivity.
    Signed, “not there yet.”

  4. Gil Asakawa says:

    Steve, thanks so much for your comment. I know the feeling — we’re all still evolving on racial issues. There’s a lot to think about, especially after the Trayvon Martin verdict (which I think was a failure of the prosecution, but still a reflection of America’s societal relationship with race.

  5. phil says:

    Gil: some good comments appearing on your blog. A question: I understand that Asiana Airlines has decided to file a lawsuit against KTVU for “damaging the airline’s reputation and dignity” with the racist, mock-Chinese names. I don’t know much about U.S. law (I’m not a U.S. citizen, though I’ve travelled there and know a bit about the country)….do you think they have any chance of winning it? KTVU has blamed an intern for the fiasco; it’s possible that the intern got the names from a prankster, or that he/she was part of the prank, or else initiated it by him- or herself.

  6. Gil Asakawa says:

    I’m no lawyer, but personally I doubt that Asiana will go through with suing the station — did the report really harm the airline? The report harmed the station more than anything else….

  7. phil says:

    Update: Asiana has apparently decided to drop the lawsuit. They say that they want to focus their energies on tending to the survivors of the crash, and they have cited the apologies made by the station as a factor as well.

  8. Gil Asakawa says:

    Good call on Asiana’s part!

  9. ken says:

    Hey, nice site.
    I grew up in a 50% Asian neighborhood and them moved to the mid-west where I get these really hilarious comments such as, ‘wow, your English is superb or there is no accent’. I used to get pissed off then I realized that for these people who’ve never been out of their state, have no idea about how round the world is… I have to admit that all the Asians here are transplants and their accents are ‘non-native’. Anyway, ignorance is just that, ignorance. Now, one might point out that there is a difference between just plain ignorance vs. derogatory ignorance. In the case of KTVU, I think the anchor was just flat out comedian level ignorance. I, similar to Steve, laughed my _ss off so hard that I could not believe what I was hearing on TV!!!! I thought to my self, no god d_mn way that could happen in the Bay Area. Even the white guys in my office could not believe it. The joke is on KTVU and they deserve every bit of backlash. Perhaps they’ll hire an Asian with a strong accent as their new Anchor.

  10. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks Ken. Yeah, the KTVU anchor was comedic dumb!

  11. phil says:

    Gil: have you seen ther 2012 movie “Flight” starring Denzel Washington? I just saw it last night on DVD…it’s darn good! I won’t give any spoilers here, but it’s about a pilot named “Whip” Whitaker (played by D. Washington) who is an excellent commercial pilot, but who unfortunately is also an alcoholic. I recommend it!

  12. Gil Asakawa says:

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, though I’m a big Denzel fan. The commercials made it look like kind of a shallow film. I figured there had to be some plot twist that had nothing to do with the trailers, but we still haven’t rented it. Maybe I’ll check to see if it’s on Netflix streaming…

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