A local news affiliate in Oakland, Calif. is potentially facing a lawsuit after airing the purported names of the pilots of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crash-landed in San Francisco last Saturday. The list was later found to be a racially offensive prank, although its origin remains unclear.
The list, which aired on San Francisco Fox affiliate KTVU on Friday, appeared under the header “Asiana Flight 214 Pilots’ Names.”
When sounded out, the names -- "Sum Ting Wong," "Wi Tu Lo," "Ho Lee Fuk" and "Bang Ding Ow" -- are clearly references to the crash (the second name refers to the fact that the plane was flying too low during its descent into San Francisco International Airport).
KTVU did contact the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to affirm the veracity of the list before airing it. For reasons unknown, a summer intern confirmed that the names were accurate.
In a statement aired on Friday evening, KTVU apologized for the “several mistakes” that led to the debacle.
“We made several mistakes when we received this information,” the statement said. “First, we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out. 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.”
Asiana considering legal action
But Asiana, already trying to control the public relations fallout from the crash, said in a statement that it is weighing legal options against both the affiliate and the NTSB.
"The reputation of the four pilots and of the company had been seriously damaged by this report," the statement said. "The company is reviewing taking legal action against both KTVU-TV and the NTSB."
The incident has also prompted an angry reaction from the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA).
“Words cannot adequately express the outrage we ... feel over KTVU's on-air blunder that made a mockery of the Asiana Airlines tragedy and offended so many loyal viewers of the ... station," a statement from the AAJA said. “We are hardly satisfied with the station’s statements, and its unwillingness to help us understand how the gaffe originated.”
The Association added that it was “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.”