The PJ Tatler

What's in a Name? Ask Captain 'Som Ting Wong'

This is one of the more incredible stories you’ll read about journalistic malpractice and government stupidity and ineptitude.

Both combined in an incident that defies belief and rational explanation.

San Francisco Fox affiliate flashed the names of the pilot and flight crew from the Asiana plane that crashed at San Francisco International Airport, with the anchor reading:

“The NTSB has confirmed these are the names of the pilots aboard Flight 214 when it crashed,” the anchor said. “We are working to determine exactly what roles each of them played during the landing on Saturday.”

So far so good, The station had confirmation from the National Transportation Safety Board of the flight crew’s names. On the screen, the names shown were:

Captain Som Ting Wong

Ho Lee Fuk

Bang Ding Ow

In an on-air apology, anchor Frank Sommerville said, “First of all, we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out.” Right. And since the names of the pilot and flight crew had already been released, the vaunted fact checkers at KTVU forgot all about Google. Instead, they simply called the NTSB where the “official” mentioned in the story turned out to be a summer intern.

From NTSB’s apology:

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,” the NTSB said in a statement released Friday night.

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 agency said.

Some alert viewer, or perhaps an employee with more on the ball than the empty-headed anchors and editors, noticed the stupid mistake and by the end of the newscast, the anchor was apologizing:

“These names were not accurate despite an NTSB official in Washington confirming them late this morning,” the anchor said. “We apologize for this error.”

Needless to say, Asian-Americans weren’t thrilled:

“We are hardly satisfied with the station’s statements, and its unwillingness to help us understand how the gaffe originated,” Paul Cheung, the president of the Asian American Journalists Association, and Bobby Calvan, the AAJA’s MediaWatch chair wrote in a statement Friday evening. “We urge KTVU to offer a better explanation,” they wrote.

One is tempted to chalk the gaffe up to the vagaries of human nature or perhaps a perfect storm of rank idiocy coupled with bad luck. After all, what are the chances that an intern answers the phone at the NTSB to confirm the names?

Heads should roll at both KTVU and the NTSB.