UPDATED STATEMENT: KTVU officials meet with AAJA over station’s embarrassing on-air gaffe

JULY 19 meeting update with KTVU

In meeting with AAJA, KTVU says it’s taking steps to improve its journalism and regain trust of Asian American community

A team of AAJA representatives met with KTVU’s senior leaders Friday morning in a 90-minute conversation that was cooperative and constructive. AAJA’s delegation included Executive Director Kathy Chow, Governing Board members Ellen Lee and Tomoko Hosaka, and Chief Broadcast Adviser George Kiriyama. The KTVU team included Vice President & General Manager Tom Raponi, News Director Lee Rosenthal, Director of Community Affairs and Public Service Rosy Chu and Staff Reporter Amber Lee.

We thank KTVU for taking the time to speak with us in person. The dialogue helped us better understand what led to the airing of the fake Asiana pilots’ names, and the station reiterated its deep remorse over the incident. It also resulted in concrete steps promised by KTVU to improve its journalistic practices and repair its relationship with the Asian American community. KTVU and AAJA will work together in the months ahead on these various initiatives. We will provide more details in the coming days.


UPDATED STATEMENT on JULY 12th

National Transportation Safety Board issues apology, says summer intern responsible for confirming erroneous information to KTVU. The station issued another apology, acknowledging lapses in its reporting.

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.

Some could argue that it wasn’t entirely KTVU’s fault. The station said it had confirmed the names with a phone call to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash.

Earlier in the afternoon, the NTSB said it had no role in confirming the names. But when pressed by KTVU and others, the agency looked deeper into the matter. By evening, the NTSB issued an apology.

“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 a statement. “Appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that such a serious error is not repeated.”

Despite the NTSB’s apology, KTVU is hardly off the hook.

“It doesn’t make things right,” Lee Rosenthal, KTVU’s news director, conceded during a chat with MediaWatch Friday evening. Rosenthal acknowledged lapses in the reporting process. Questions that should have been asked weren’t, he said.

“We can assure you that none of this was premeditated nor was there any malicious intent in any way,” Rosenthal said.

With such a vaunted reputation among local news stations, we expected much more from KTVU. We fail to understand how those obviously phony names could escape detection before appearing on the broadcast and were spoken by the news anchor. We urge KTVU to conduct a thorough review to prevent similar lapses.

On its evening newscast, anchor Frank Somerville elaborated on the on-air blunder, explaining that the station made “several mistakes” after receiving the names from a source. The station declined to identify that source.

“First, we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out,” he said. “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.”

AAJA is embarrassed for the anchor of the noon broadcast, 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.

Paul Cheung, AAJA President
Bobby Caina Calvan, AAJA MediaWatch Chair


ORIGINAL STATEMENT ON JULY 12th

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.

During KTVU’s noon newscast, the anchor said the station had learned the names of the four pilots in the cockpit of the ill-fated flight, which crashed in San Francisco on July 6 and killed three passengers.

Unfortunately those names were not only wrong, but grossly offensive. We won’t repeat the names, which caricatured Asian names.

The station apologized later in the same newscast. Still, we fail to understand how a television news station with such a vaunted reputation could have fallen victim to such juvenile antics.

We are hardly satisfied with the station’s statements, and its unwillingness to help us understand how the gaffe originated.

Phone calls to the station’s news director, Lee Rosenthal, were not returned. A woman who answered the phone, and who declined to give her name, repeated the station’s contention that it was given the names by an agency. She called it a “hoax,” but declined to explain.

In a statement posted on its website, Tom Raponi, KTVU’s vice president and general manager, apologized. “Nothing is more important to us than having the highest level of accuracy and integrity,” he said, “and we are reviewing our procedures to ensure this type of error does not happen again.” The station acknowledged that it misidentified the Asiana pilots, but said the names were confirmed by an NTSB official in Washington.

AAJA reached out to a Washington spokesman for the NTSB, Terry Williams. Williams said he had “no idea” from where the names came, and that the agency did not confirm any of the names broadcast by the station. (UPDATE: NTSB statement on erroneous confirmation of crew names)

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.

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.

We urge KTVU to offer a better explanation.

Paul Cheung, AAJA President
Bobby Caina Calvan, AAJA MediaWatch Chair