For most companies, an intern can be a great asset to the inner workings of an organization. However, for one Oakland TV station, KTVU, a single intern from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) managed to put them right in the middle of a national crisis. On July 6th 2013, after an Asiana Airlines flight crashed during its landing in San Francisco, news stations jumped at the opportunity to be the first to report on the crash and have the most up to date information. Sadly, in the rush to get information to the public, producers at the KTVU station verified false information from an intern regarding the names of the pilots on board the flight. The names provided to the news anchor were not only racist but very disrespectful.
The negligence of the TV station and their failure to confirm sources and exercise careful editing resulted in negative worldwide media attention. KTVU confirmed incorrect names that were given to them by an intern working at NTSB. Careless editing must have occurred for the producers to think that these were probable names of the pilots. Also, the producers should have done further fact checking because the source ended up being unreliable and unofficial. The intern at the NTSB who provided the false information was consequently fired from their position.
When publishing a news story, it is crucial to not act with a reckless disregard for whether the information shared is false or not because the station could be sued for actual malice. Asiana Airlines could have opted to sue KTVU for defamation but did not to do so. This particular situation portrays why the media has laws such as these in place to prevent false and damaging claims being published publicly. The airplane company Boeing also attempted to manage the crisis through social media, stating in a tweet that “Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today’s incident at SFO. We stand ready to assist the NTSB.” Boeing stood by the NTSB and supported them because although they had nothing to do with the racist remarks, they knew that the incident was the effect of careless editing and negligence.
As part of their crisis management plan, the Office of Public Affairs issued a press release on behalf of the NTSB formally apologizing for the “inaccurate and offensive names.” They issued a statement of regret followed by corrective action, “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.”
Do you feel that the NTSB and KTVU handled this crisis to the best of their ability? What other incidents have you seen in the news that have resulted in a formal public apology?
-Aaron Love, Kara Zimmerman, Rachel Clay, Rebecca Hobbs