The Fake Pilots Caper: No Excuse For Professional Cluelessness

Fake Names

I was unable to post on this story in a timely fashion, but better late than never.

Everyone was laughing at the punking of WKTU TV in the Bay area on July 6, when it reported fake names of the alleged pilots in the Asiana Airlines crash that killed  three and injured many more. It was funny, in the same way Bart Simpson’s multitude of fake names he uses to embarrass Mo at Mo’s tavern is funny. (“Amanda Huggenkiss? I’ll see if she’s here.”(shouting) “I need Amanda Hugginkiss! Can someone find me Amanda Huggnkiss?”) But Mo is an idiot who runs a cartoon bar, and not a professional journalist charged with informing the public.

Nobody at the station—producer, editor, reporter, staff—noticed that “Captain Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Low,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow” were obvious gags. These are the discerning professionals who cull through the news to inform the public? Jonathan Turley called them “humor impaired,’ which is far too kind. They are incompetent. They are lazy and careless. They have bad instincts, and insufficient common sense to protect the public from misinterpreted news and bad information.

Journalism is on par with education and the government regarding the unacceptable number of incompetent, unprofessional and dim-witted people in jobs that are too difficult and important to be occupied by dolts. This is a lovely example. The station says that it confirmed the names from the NTSB and aired what it thought was the official report, which was really the work of a puckish intern. That’s even worse: if the station employs a single individual who could speak, type, or read a name like “Ho Lee Fuk” without becoming suspicious, it’s one too many, but apparently WKTU is full of such slugs. Out with all of them! The Management should be replaced, and every single individual who was aware of the names and was too careless or clueless to recognize them as jokes should be sent packing.

It’s simple principle, really: he incompetent cannot be trusted. Apparently the NTSB intern who devised the stunt was fired, and should have been, but given the choice of hiring him or the various Ted Baxters and Ron Burgundys who didn’t get the point, I’d take my chance on the intern. He’s young, and  can still be trained to be professional. Stupidity is forever.

22 thoughts on “The Fake Pilots Caper: No Excuse For Professional Cluelessness

    • An enabling problem in all of this, that bites the media in the rear time and time again is, in their mad rush to be the first to report anything, they cut corners on proofing and confirming information.

      Timely AND accurate reporting is the standard; not just timely reporting.

  1. I’ll bet a buck two-twenty-five that the NTSB intern who took the call, thought to himself or herself, “Really? If you are dumb enough to call me to confirm these names, then you deserve all of the ridicule you are about to receive”, hung up the phone and said to the intern in the next cubicle, “Dude! You aren’t gonna believe this . . . ” and they had quite a laugh!


  2. In the defense of the news station, they did try to verify the names. That some idiot intern was so brain-dead as to verify the names (thus ensuring his eventual place as an agency head) is not their fault.

    Station: “No fuckin’ way these names are legit. You, Steve, call and confirm this shit.”

    Time passes

    Steve: “I called, gave the list, and the NTSB confirmed it.”

    Station: “Well I’ll be fucked. OK then, throw it on a teleprompter; we’re live in 5 minutes…”

    • Station: “Well I’ll be fucked. OK then, throw it on a teleprompter; we’re live in 5 minutes…”

      Translation: “I’m an idiot.”
      They didn’t have to check. Anyone over the age of 6 who didn’t know those were fake names has a future as a paperweight.

      • They checked with the NTSB.

        I’ve worked with the Chinese before, and some of the REAL names I saw made me do a double-take.

        They got a list of names. It was a list they thought HAD to be bullshit, so they checked it out. Their check said it was correct, so they ran it.

        They did their due diligence, so slamming them for it seems a bit excessive.

        And that’s me saying that, so how do you think you should be feeling right now? 🙂

  3. There was that island where the tsunami happened a few years ago, Phuket, which when I read it the first time, caused me to giggle a bit (turns out it isn’t pronounced the way that I thought it would be pronounced). But still, it seems like the station did check it out, and jut because the names look fake doesn’t necessarily mean that they are. I give them a pass on this one.

    • Mark this down, because I never do this: I’ll agree to disagree with you. I think gag names as obvious as Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Low and Ho Lee Fuk could not possibly be real, and no one should get such pass, but you’re welcome to your diagnosis. I think it’s signature significance, just as if someone heard “Who’s on First?” and thought it was a real baseball team.

      • No. No. And no. This isn’t a ‘benefit of the doubt’ super graciousness thing Jack. The double checkers should never have even run the names of of what they thought was the crew when, with any modicum of intelligence, any reasonable person should see something is a miss.

        I may be tricked by one name… I went to school with a Vietnamese guy named Phuc Ngo…. No not pronounced in a way that cracks the forbidden smile… But four names? I think a flying pig being struck twice by lightening would be more probable. Anyone with even a minor amount of knowledge should have known better.

        Let’s just say that those actually happened to be the names of the pilot and crew. I still could easily see the news agency say “it really not that important to report the names until we actually hear from the airline itself what the names are”.

      • But this is an ethics blog! Is “fake news” unethical when it is put forth by stupidity rather than with malicious intent? Also, does the First Amendment give someone an absolute right to report “fake news”?

        When Trump is in office, ethics seem to change.

        And notice that the Chinese don’t have a chimpout and cry racism when a news organization makes an erroneous humorous report. CNN is not immune either:

  4. Probably the dumbest excuse I’ve ever heard…

    “Anchor Frank Somerville read another apology on the station’s Friday evening broadcast that was also posted to its website, saying “even with this statement from the NTSB, KTVU accepts full responsibility for this mistake.”

    “First, we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out,” the statement said.”

    Must be a really noisy news room.

    • Don’t forget the prompter operator, Bhutt Hjed. WKTU is an equal opportunity employer.

      In seriousness, just reading the names in order tells you it’s fake. The fake names actually spell out a fake distress call. I can’t believe nobody there caught that.

  5. Another aspect of this fiasco that shouldn’t be overlooked is that the news anchor read these names with authority and aplomb. Only the clearly ridiculous and absurd nature has made it a public spectacle. How much other bullshit is the public being fed that isn’t so easy to spot?

  6. I agree with you Jack. This was clearly a time when common sense would trump checking the facts.

    I work with large data sets and do medical analysis which get’s published in journal articles. There are many instances where data is unreasonable, it’s checked against the paper records and found to match, and it’s still excluded because it’s unreasonable. Mistakes happen, the NTSB person is not infallible.

    Just because you checked something does not mean it’s correct, the final judgement is still yours to make. Anyone who can honestly say they still would have put up those four names after confirming with one NTSB person one time should not be in a position to use judgement.

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