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Report: KTVU fake pilot names started as internal joke not intended for air

Report: KTVU fake pilot names started as internal joke not intended for air

An internal joke that was never intended to make it to the news desk is reportedly at the center of a California TV station’s embarrassing on-air blunder, according to a new report Friday.

Ever since San Francisco area FOX affiliate KTVU erroneously aired the painfully obvious fake names of four pilots purported to be those of Asiana flight 214 two weeks ago, the story’s turned into a viral catastrophe with seemingly never-ending fallout.

Earlier this week, three KTVU employees were reportedly fired over the incident.  On Friday, a KTVU employee told Matthew Keys at The Desk that the four fake pilot names came from a usually reliable source.

A KTVU employee told The Desk early Thursday morning that the names — Captain Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow — were emailed to KTVU by a local aviation expert who has provided the station with reliable information in the past.

The source, who acknowledged working on the broadcast that contained the false report, did not want to be identified due to an ongoing investigation at the station over the origin of the names. The source also did not identify who that aviation expert was.

That report was followed by another from KOMY radio host and media blogger Rich Lieberman, who first reported the KTVU firings.  Lieberman’s source, a KTVU insider, explained that the email allegedly started out as an internal joke that was never intended to air.  The source told him “the entire affair was a ‘perfect storm’ of unintended consequences.”

That person who sent the joke e-mail; a longtime source that the station has relied on in the past as a trusted informant, is now at the heart of the investigation. It’s looking pretty simple from here: the fake, joke e-mail that wasn’t meant for anyone other than in-house laughter found its way, remarkably to the air, and thus, cost four people their jobs.

“I don’t think (the person) who sent it could ever imagine that it would have made air,” the KTVU insider told Lieberman.

A NTSB intern also lost his job over the whole ordeal, after he confirmed the fake names when KTVU contacted the agency for verification.  While these new details explain a lot, they unfortunately don’t offer any insight into how that intern “verified” the names when contacted.

Coincidentally, the same fake names were posted online in forums in the context of a joke days before the broadcast, which makes it all that much more unbelievable that the names weren’t caught by someone at the TV station as fake before making it to air.

You’ll recall that the incident also almost resulted in a lawsuit against KTVU, but Asiana airlines has since dropped that ludicrous notion.  KTVU meanwhile has been filing copyright infringement notices to try and remove the videos of the erroneous broadcast from the internet (we all know how well that will turn out).

So there you have it.

In this instance, it all allegedly started out as a stupid mistake that got too far because the media outlet was irresponsible.  But as I’ve written before, it’s a teachable moment – the whole sordid mess just goes to show how easy it would be for someone with more malicious intent to punk the media and get something far more damaging on the air.


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These guys should have said they were embarrassed to have fallen for this prank, that it wouldn’t happen again, and left it at that.

Publicly talking about an investigation, and then publicly firing people is just making this worse for KTVU. Everyone would have forgotten about it by now. But instead they keep talking about it. These guys look dumber and dumber all the time.

For years news reports about technical issues in which I am an expert contained, almost always, significant errors. I have mistrusted MSM reports for years. With MSM outlets still posting the 12-year-old Trayvon picture, not reporting on the White House scandals in detail, etc., etc., it was only a matter of time before their lazy attitudes and indifference to truth would finally nail someone in that racket.

    TrooperJohnSmith in reply to the_geezer. | July 27, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    That’s like aviation. Everything is now tarmac, which is incidentally the old trade name of an early airport runway paving product, a derivative of macadam.

    To wit, all the news stories last week featured the revelation that the Southwest 737’s nose gear collapsed on the “tarmac”. How about the runway? Any of you aviation writers ever even loops at an airport map before? Runway? Taxiway? Turn-off? Over-run? Terminal Ramp Area? GA Ramp? Aircraft Handling Area? Remote parking pad? Hardstand?

    Lazy reporting…

Midwest Rhino | July 27, 2013 at 10:55 am

just goes to show how easy it would be for someone with more malicious intent to punk the media and get something far more damaging on the air”

The station, on advice of counsel, no doubt worked hard to portray that no one intended for this to make it to the teleprompter … but I don’t buy it. PERHAPS a prompter reader would miss it on first read, but they even bothered to “confirm”. So someone recognized it as a joke, and probably thought punking the talking head would also be funny.

Major networks have been intentionally punking America on Obama since early 2008, and it has indeed been damaging. The deceit is intentional and malicious, even if some prompter readers drink the Kool-Aid. The Zimmerman case is another example of coordinated and malicious false content, resulting in real damage.

Coordinated deception has been the plan of the slippery name changing communists/progressives/liberals/socialists for almost a century.
Punking America = Sabotage of our Republic.

Is this the best excuse they have to offer?

Spiny Norman | July 27, 2013 at 12:22 pm

It’s looking pretty simple from here: the fake, joke e-mail that wasn’t meant for anyone other than in-house laughter found its way, remarkably to the air…

I thought that was “painfully obvious” as soon as I heard of it. I used to work at a newspaper, and you’d be surprised how often internal jokes come close to being published. It happens all the time. Hell, even non-jokes get out: thanks to the Internet, we’ve all seen things like “Headline Goes Here” actually appear in print.

    TrooperJohnSmith in reply to Spiny Norman. | July 27, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Years ago, while working on top-40s radio, there were always those DJ’s who would hurriedly pull the news wire copy and read it cold, along with anything else in their “on-air” pile, which always included the local weather. The generic name of Rip Reader was given to these cats.

    These guys were inevitably pranked with the weather copy which was always given to them at the last-minute.

    “And now your _____ area weather forecast. Around seven-o’clock we should see an increasing possibility of darkness, followed by complete darkness which will only last until about six a.m. at which time a big, red-orange ball of fire will rise in the east…”

TrooperJohnSmith | July 27, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Beware of anyone professing to be an “expert”.

ex = a has-been
spurt = a drip under pressure

The reporters, producers and copywriters all missed the obvious. It’s too bad that the kid who delivers coffee and donuts to the newsroom didn’t vet it; he would’ve caught it for sure.

    more like ex-pert


    1.boldly forward in speech or behavior; impertinent; saucy.
    2.jaunty and stylish; chic; natty.
    3.lively; sprightly; in good health.
    4.Obsolete , clever.

    trying too hard to be clever

ktvu (which, btw, is located and broadcasts out of oakland, not san francisco) has been making reporting and chyron errors from minor to major for decades. it’s practically a drinking game in my household to take a sip whenever a spelling or location error is made during one of their reports. they manage to keep me fairly well inebriated.

surrexit lex | July 27, 2013 at 3:50 pm

This just in — sources at KTVU have confirmed that the name of the aviation expert who provided the fake list is Professor Jok Son Yoo.

Well, as someone with southern Chinese family connections (albeit not Cantonese), I find the KTVU name list singularly unfunny. I make the observation that if a single inappropriate joke, action, or comment with racial overtones were sufficient to make a pariah out of anyone, a lot of people in public life or public service would be out on their pigu (屁股)–including many a fiery liberal spirit.