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NTSB Apologizes, Blames Fact Errors on Summer Intern


A local Fox affiliate in the San Francisco market ran embarrassingly incorrect names of crew members on Asiana flight 214 that crashed at San Francisco’s airport. Now the government is confirming the station’s explanation and taking blame.

Facebook lit up Friday with clips of an anchor at Oakland Fox affiliate KTVU-TV reading names of the crew of Asiana flight 214, which crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday.

The names presented as crew members were fake names that some found offensive as Asian stereotypes:

Captain Sum Ting Wong
Wi Tu Lo
Ho Lee Fuk
Bang Ding Ow

It’s mind-boggling to me that the third name alone wouldn’t have sent up major red flags that would have prompted more verification.

But KTVU-TV apologized on the air and over its social media, claiming that the names had been verified by “an NTSB official” confirming them. The station’s Facebook page drew heavy criticism — no surprise there — even after the station’s claim that the government official had given them bad information.

KTVU later apologized on air again, even after the firestorm had been raging for hours.

Here’s where it got really interesting. It turns out that “NTSB official” wasn’t so official. The agency issued an apology of its own late Friday:

“The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots of Asiana flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6.

Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft.

The NTSB does not release or confirm the names of crewmembers or people involved in transportation accidents to the media. 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.”

You can’t make up stuff like this.

Do I believe that the NTSB’s explanation is in any way legitimate? For the most part, absolutely. For two big reasons.

First, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to know that a summer intern had been given the often-thankless task of answering phones. And with out government scraping by, it also wouldn’t surprise me to learn that said summer intern might have been working without any direct supervision at that moment, and that he might have had no one to ask when the station called to request confirmation. It’s entirely possible that this intern did ask someone, but that the person he or she asked was just as uninformed as the intern, who apparently didn’t know that the NTSB doesn’t release such details to begin with.

But secondly — and much more importantly — I’m inclined to believe the NTSB’s apology because of this basic truth: it would have been so much easier for Washington to have just sat back and allowed the television station to be the villain. It’s part of “the media,” after all, so it was going to be a villain no matter what. What possible explanation could the NTSB muster for accepting any blame it didn’t legitimately have to?

I can’t think of one. Can you?

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.