On Pilot Names and Sources

Last week, San Francisco Bay Area FOX affiliate KTVU-TV shared the names of the pilots on Asiana Airlines Flight 214.

(I have decided not to re-publish the list of names KTVU reported, but that link above has them in the video. They are racially insensitive, to say the least.)

This morning, USA Today reported that Asiana Airlines is suing the TV station over the report:

Asiana has decided to sue KTVU-TV to “strongly respond to its racially discriminatory report” that disparaged Asians, Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin said. She said the airline will likely file suit in U.S. courts.

The Asian American Journalists Association weighed in as well:

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.

At least some people at KTVU realized the mistake, after the fact. Matthew Keys writes:

When the station inaccurately reported the pilot names on Friday, KTVU producer Brad Belstock tweeted “Oh shit.” Belstock later deleted his Twitter account. Staffers at other television stations responded in a similar fashion to KTVU’s mistake.

Word circulated this weekend that the report had been put together by an intern at KTVU, but the station stood by its statement that the names were passed to them from a source at the National Transportation Safety Board.

Turns out, KTVU was indeed given those names by the NTSB. On July 12, the government agency issued this statement:

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.

While the “summer intern” has surely been fired, KTVU clearly dropped the ball here as well. As soon as the reported names are read out loud, it’s clear that a middle-school level, racially-charged joke has been pulled, but the news anchor — and the visual designer who put the slide together — apparently went on the information given them.

(As a side note, Reuters reports that the summer intern was a volunteer.)

Whoever at KTVU should have run the list by more people internally, or — better yet — waited for a second source before rushing to report the names.

The news station published an apology, saying:

We made several mistakes when we received this information. First, we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out.

Then, during our phone call to the NTSB where the person confirmed the spellings of the names, we never asked that person to give us their position with the agency.

We heard this person verify the information without questioning who they were and then rushed the names on our noon newscast.

“Several mistakes” indeed.