Fact-Check Failure in Asiana Reporting Incident

Erik Bernstein crisis communications, Crisis Prevention, crisis public relations, Crisis Response, Erik Bernstein, fact checking, internet crisis management, internet reputation management, Jonathan Bernstein, online crisis management, online reputation management, PR, public relations, reputation management 1 Comment

Fact-checking is critical to crisis prevention

Today’s rapid-fire reporting leaves more room for error than ever, especially since fact-checking is quickly becoming a lost art among members of the media. In an incident Friday that took a scene right out of the movie “Anchorman,” local Bay Area station KTVU-TV was reporting on the Asiana Airlines tragedy when it not only displayed, but reporters actually read out loud, a fake, and super racist, list of the pilot’s names. On the list? “Captain Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow.”

Really? REALLY? If your fact-checking is this lax, you should go ahead and hire a crisis management pro to be on staff, because you’re going to need their help, often.

So what exactly happened at KTVU-TV? Let’s hear it, straight from the horse’s mouth:

We made several mistakes when we received this information. 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.

We heard this person verify the information without questioning who they were and then rushed the names on our noon newscast.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, the NTSB issued the following statement:

The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots. A summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft.  We work hard to ensure that only appropriate factual information regarding an investigation is released and deeply regret today’s incident.  Appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that such a serious error is not repeated.

The full NTSB statement can be found here.

Even with this statement from the NTSB, KTVU accepts full responsibility for this mistake.

We issued an apology later in the noon newscast, and we also apologized on our website and on our social media sites.

We have a lot of good people here at KTVU Channel 2. We pride ourselves on getting it right and having the highest of standards and integrity.

Clearly, on Friday, that didn’t happen.  So again, from everyone here at KTVU, we offer our sincerest apology.

On the surface this reads like a decent apology, but looking at it from a crisis management perspective there are a couple of major flaws. First off, where’s the compassion? Oh sure, you’re very proud of yourselves, are sorry, etc etc, but an expression of empathy, especially for the flight’s passengers and the Asian community, is very much in order. The other problem? How about the fact that, while the list was “verified” by an NTSB intern, it actually originated at the station, and nobody there is coughing up the name of the person responsible. In our opinion, the only reason there isn’t more public demand for heads to roll is that news of the Zimmerman trial is overshadowing just about everything else at the moment.

Anyone with half a brain could have seen that the list was a complete fake, so what does that say about the quality of reporting at KTVU? The sad thing is that incidents like this are occurring all over as reporters, and heck, everyone else out there, pushes to be the first to break a story, regardless of the damage created by misinformation or the cost to their own reputations. Whenever you’re announcing something in public, be it news story, financial figures, product release, ANYTHING, take a minute to fact-check; not only is it smart crisis management, but it’s just being responsible.

The BCM Blogging Team

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