KTVU-TV has dismissed at least three veteran producers over the on-air gaffe involving the fake names of those Asiana airline pilots that became an instant YouTube hit – and a major embarrassment to the station.
Station sources confirmed late Wednesday that investigative producer Roland DeWolk, special projects producer Cristina Gastelu and producer Brad Belstock were all sent packing following an in-house investigation into the July 12 broadcast of four fake names of the pilots involved in the Asiana Flight 214 crash at San Francisco International Airport on July 6.
A fourth – noon news producer Elvin Sledge – told colleagues he was leaving for health reasons.
News of the firings was first reported on Rich Lieberman‘s 415 Media blog.
During its noon newscast on July 12, anchor Tori Campbell announced that “KTVU has just learned the names of the four pilots who were on board” the ill-fated plane – then proceeded to read from a teleprompter while the phony names were displayed on a graphic.
The names she gave were Capt. Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow.
Only after the station returned from a break did Campbell – who had clearly been unaware of the mistake – read an on-air correction, telling viewers that the station had confirmed the names with the National Transportation Safety Board.
By day’s end, the NTSB issued its own apology for “inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed” to KTVU. Soon after, the NTSB announced that it had fired a summer intern over the incident.
During the evening newscast, anchor Frank Somerville also apologized to viewers, and the station vowed to review its own policies. It has kept largely mum since.
Two days ago, blogs began posting that Cox Communications, KTVU’s parent company, had sent copyright infringement notices to YouTube – demanding that the offensive video of Campbell’s newscast be removed.
In a statement that appeared on TVSpy.com, KTVU General Manager Tom Raponi said the move was made out of consideration for the Asian American community. “Consistent with our apology, we are carrying through with our responsibility to minimize the thoughtless repetition of the video by others,” he said in the statement.
Raponi added, “Most people have seen it,” and that “continuing to show the video is also insensitive and offensive, especially to the many in our Asian community.”
Sources tell us the fake names – which had been posted on the Internet at least two days before – came to the station via e-mail from an expert source who had provided information to the station in the past.
Rosenthal did not return our calls late Wednesday seeking comment.
Colleagues said they were saddened, but not completely surprised by the dismissals given the international attention the gaffe got, including a threat – later dropped – by Asiana to sue to the station.
“People are definitely down about it,” one source said.
Randy Shandobil, former KTVU political editor who left the station 2 1/2 years ago, because “people were working harder and harder and feeling less secure about what was hitting the air,” said Wednesday the episode was emblematic of the pressure news reporters everywhere are under to get information out as quickly as possible.
At Channel 2 and elsewhere, “People are overtaxed and have more responsibility sometimes than they can handle. And sometimes, in situations like this, terrible mistakes happen that are bigger than one person. It’s systemic.”