Sum Ting Wong
By now, I’m sure everyone has seen the prank pulled on San Francisco’s KTVU-TV news department.

For those who haven’t seen this debacle, during KTVU-TV’s noon broadcast on July 12th, newscasters stated that the station had just learned the names of the four pilots on board during the tragic July 6th crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214.  The anchor then read the names exactly as you see above, stating that they had been confirmed with the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board).

Of course, if you say those names out loud, it’s pretty easy to understand that they were fake. They tell the story of the crash in poor taste, with racial overtones and gross insensitivity, considering three people lost their lives in the tragedy.

How this got through several layers of proofreading is unfathomable to me.

  • Somehow the news station received the names
  • Someone at the station decided to confirm the names with the NTSB
  • Someone at the NTSB confirmed those names to be legitimate
  • Someone informed the news editor that the names were legitimate
  • Someone created the graphic to be shown on the news
  • Someone entered the text into the teleprompter
  • The news anchor read it aloud for everyone to hear, even catching herself to be sure she said “fuk” in a way that wouldn’t sound like a certain four letter word.

In spite of several opportunities for correction, the prank managed to get all the way through to broadcast.  By Friday afternoon, the clip was all over the web, and the next play was damage control for everyone involved.  First was a statement from KTVU-TV saying that they did nothing wrong because the names were confirmed by the NTSB.

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 the error.

With the blame on the NTSB, the agency had to find a way to pass the buck. Their solution? Interns.

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.

This seemed to be the end of the blame game, but then the airline got involved. On July 15, Asiana Airlines stated that they were going to sue KTVU-TV because of their news broadcast because it “damaged the airline’s reputation.”

Surely a fatal plane crash deals a heavier blow to an airline’s reputation than blatantly fake names in a news broadcast.  In the end, Asiana Airlines came to their senses and decided not to sue the television station, but why even go down that road in the first place?

There’s a lesson here: Trying to cover your gaffe or pass the blame is often worse than the error itself. I’m sure KTVU-TV did call the NTSB, and I’m sure the NTSB confirmed the names, but with several layers of failed error detection on the station’s part, they have to own this mistake on some level.

The NTSB isn’t innocent, either. Intern or not, the NTSB allowed this person to answer the phone and confirm information. Given those duties, it’s irresponsible for the agency to claim that the intern doesn’t really work for them. Like KTVU-TV, the NTSB made a terrible mistake in their process, and they should own up to it without blaming an inexperienced staff member with overprescribed responsibility.

Still, Asiana Airlines to me is by far the worst culprit in this mess.  The airline was just involved in a horrific crash that luckily only killed three people and injured 181.  Why in the world did they stoop to threaten a lawsuit to a television station?  It comes off as showing a complete lack of compassion for those injured or deceased directly due to flying on their airline.

When your company makes a mistake, don’t point fingers. If you come clean and make it clear you won’t make the same mistake twice, people will be much more open to understanding and forgiveness. Excuses and blame only prolong the damage to your reputation.