KTVU Releases Incorrect Asiana Pilot Names, caused by NTSB Blunder

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Smashing a newly manufactured car into a wall to check that the airbag system works correctly. Testing functionality and fixing bugs on a recently launched website. And Double-checking facts before reporting the news.

No matter what the industry, quality control is critical for any business/organization! Unfortunately for Oakland/San Francisco-based FOX-affiliated and Cox Media-owned KTVU, quality control standards were seemingly not upheld today when an anchor read the names of the crashed Asiana 214 pilots.

In a Ron Burgundy like moment, the anchor read the pilot names from the teleprompter without hesitation: “Captain Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” “Bang Ding Ow.” And those certainly were not the names of the pilots on the aircraft. This blunder sparked major coverage from other news outlets today who could not let a mistake of that magnitude go unnoticed. Online news outlets like Gawker exploded with comments, many bad-mouthing KTVU.

Although KTVU has since apologized, it issued this statement–also read on the air–defending itself.

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 in Washington confirming them late this morning. We apologize for this error.

NTSB Public Affairs Officer Peter Knudson has since stated that the NTSB’s policy is never to give out pilot names in these situations, which contradicts claims made by KTVU. He added “I don’t know who [KTVU] got that from, but we do not release names.”

KTVU went on to issue another apology on its website, and maintains that “prior to air, the names were confirmed by an NTSB official in the agency’s Washington, D.C. office.”

Shortly before 6 p.m. today, the NTSB confirmed KTVU’s claims, releasing the following statement:

The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots. A summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft.  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.

This event makes KTVU look bad as a news organization within the Bay Area and questions their ability to accurately report information and phonetically read names before reporting on air. Nonetheless it speaks to quality control standards and scrutiny at the NTSB. Without a doubt the agency will be working “hard to ensure that only appropriate factual information regarding an investigation is released” in the future as they stated. One would think not giving interns access to confirm such sensitive information is a no-brainer…bet it is now.

Quality control is essential in any organization, especially a government agency. Today the NTSB dropped the ball, but it will be interesting to observe if news outlets and government agencies practice more caution before jumping the gun with releasing info to the public. But let’s be real; most likely they’ll just continue prematurely reporting news, or in this case, rather a lack thereof.

Update 07/15/13:  Seoul, Korea-based Asiana confirms it plans to sue KTVU for airing the fake, racially offensive names for the pilots of flight 214. The Korean carrier stated it has chosen a U.S. law firm and will soon file a petition with the courts on the grounds of defamation. “This legal action is being taken because of the KTVU report that not only disparaged Asians in general through the use of racially charged epithets, but also severely damaged the reputation of Asiana Airlines,” the company said in a statement. According to the Associated Press, Asiana has chosen not to sue the NTSB, with a spokeman saying “after a legal review, the company decided to file a law suit against the network because it was their report that resulted in damaging the company’s image.”

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