The news department at San Francisco, California television station KTVU-TV was assailed by both viewers and fellow journalists on Friday after a massive on-air gaffe involving offensive “Asian” names the station said were provided by federal officials.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the error ocurred during the station’s noon newscast, when co-anchor Tori Campbell said KTVU had just been informed of the names of the four pilots aboard Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6.
Campbell then identified the “pilots” as “Captain Sum Ting Wong, i Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow,” as the names were displayed on a graphic on-screen.
According to the Chronicle, Campbell issued a correction after a commercial break, saying the station had received the names from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The station also offered that explanation in a statement posted on its website after the telecast, while identifying the pilots as Lee Gang-guk and Lee Jeong-Min.
“We sincerely regret the error and took immediate action to apologize, both in the newscast where the mistake occurred, as well as on our website and social media sites,” vice president and general manager Tom Raponi said in the statement. “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.”
But a media advocacy group, the Asian-American Journalists Association, questioned KTVU’s account of events in a statement of its own Friday afternoon, saying an NTSB spokesperson denied the agency confirmed the fake names to the station.
“Even if the NTSB confirmed the information, the names originated from somewhere — and we fail to understand how those obviously phony names could escape detection before appearing on the broadcast and were spoken by the news anchor,” the AAJA said in its statement. “We are embarrassed for the anchor, who was as much a victim as KTVU’s viewers and KTVU’s hard-working staff, including the journalists who produced stellar work covering the crash. But we’re mostly saddened that a tragedy that took the lives of three people and injured scores of other passengers could be taken as an opportunity for an apparent joke.”
UPDATE, 10:01 p.m. EST: The NTSB apologized in a statement for what it called “inaccurate confirmation” of the offensive names, while vowing “appropriate action” would be taken to avoid a repeat of such an incident.
“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 agency said in the statement. “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.”
Watch KTVU’s on-air mistake, posted on YouTube on Friday by user “YakPug,” below.