There's a pivotal scene in the movie Anchorman where Ron Burgundy, the film's eponymous newsman, reads an insult off the Teleprompter to the entire city of San Diego without even noticing what he's saying. "Nice work, everyone," he says blithely, as the studio breaks into panic mode. "Sharp broadcast." (Watch the uncensored version below)
It's hard to imagine that happening in real life, but it's also hard to believe this on-air flub at Oakland, Calif., Fox affiliate KTVU-TV: On Friday, news anchor Tori Campbell reported that the station had just received the names of the four pilots on Asiana Flight 214, the Korean airliner that had crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, killing three people. Watch above to see her read these names on live TV:
Captain Sum Ting Wong
Wi Tu Lo
Ho Lee Fuk
Bang Ding Ow
If you read them out loud, the Bart Simpson–class "joke" becomes clear, as it probably should have to Campbell. Even without the phonetic wordplay, though, Asiana is South Korea's No. 2 airline, and the lack of even one Korean-sounding name should have caused somebody at the station to give the list a second glance.
So, how did this happen?
After a commercial break, Campbell said the station had made a mistake, that the names were incorrect, but that they'd be confirmed by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB acknowledged its part, saying a summer intern had "mistakenly confirmed" some "inaccurate and offensive names," acting "outside the scope of his authority." Without naming the intern or disclosing his fate, the NTSB added: "Appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that such a serious error is not repeated."
Was this just a case of government bureaucratic error? Not entirely. In both the press release and a subsequent statement to the San Francisco Chronicle's Jeff Elder, the NTSB emphasized that the names originated at the "media outlet" — presumably, KTVU. The hapless intern, NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel told the Chronicle, was "acting in good faith and trying to be helpful" by confirming the unknown names. The NTSB, as a rule, "does not release or confirm the names of crew members or people involved in transportation accidents to the media," Nantel added.
What's clear is that, as the San Francisco Chronicle notes, the four fake names "clearly were someone's idea of a joke." Asiana, for one, doesn't think it was very funny — the airline says it will sue KTVU for defamation.
KTVU issued a second on-air apology Friday evening, explaining that "we made several mistakes," including that "we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out." But it's hard to see how that's true. In the video below, KTVU says it erred in not asking for the NTSB official's name and position before running with the confirmation, strongly suggesting that the confirmation was over the phone — and meaning that somebody at the station read the names out loud to the NTSB intern.
Here's the kicker: Earlier in the week, KTVU had bragged in a television ad about its coverage of the Asiana crash. The promo includes this quote from KTVU news director Lee Rosenthal:
Being first on air and on every platform in all aspects of our coverage was a great accomplishment, but being 100 percent accurate, effectively using our great sources and social media without putting a single piece of erroneous information on our air, is what we are most proud of as a newsroom. [Via SFGate]
Here's the uncensored version of the Anchorman clip, with NSFW language (and more context):
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