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Tuesday, July 16th 2013

5:56 PM

Namegate

As I commented on a co-worker's Facebook page, I am obsessed with what some observers have taken to calling "Namegate."

I refer, of course, to the topic of my very lengthy previous POST, the matter of exactly how station KTVU in the San Francisco television market ended up airing fake, racially-insensitive names for the pilots of an Asiana Airlines plane that crashed just over a week ago at San Francisco International.

KTVU quickly apologized on-air (and later on its web site and on social media) for the report that aired on this past Friday's noon newscast. In its apology, it stated that no one at the station had actually said the names out loud before they went on the air. The apology also mentioned that it had confirmed the names with the NTSB. As it turns out, that "confirmation" came from a summer intern at the NTSB. THE INTERN has now been fired.

The main points of my previous post basically boil down to this:
  1. Knowing what I know about how information flows through a newsroom, I find it hard to believe that no one said or had heard the names being said before they went on air. Even though these names had been "confirmed," they never should have made air;
  2. I have a lot of questions about the NTSB intern who confirmed these names. The NTSB says he did not have the authority to confirm anything, but says he acted in good faith and was just trying to be helpful. My contention is that he was neither helpful nor acting in good faith when he took it upon himself to confirm names that he couldn't know were right - because they were fake names!

Which brings us to the latest developments. A MEDIA BLOGGER in San Francisco has been posting about this story. In his post from MONDAY, JULY 15 (which I hadn't read when I wrote my post yesterday. In fact, I wasn't even aware of his blog until today), he cites "insider sources" who told him that at least four or five people probably "touched" (his word) the story before it made air. That's pretty much what I was thinking, although I tried to give the TV station the benefit of the doubt by stopping my tally at "at least two."

It's still not clear where the fake names came from or how they were introduced to the newsroom (phone, fax, email). But, this blogger, Rich Lieberman, contends that the fake names may have come from one of the other stations in the market, peeved at KTVU's self-aggrandizing PROMO in which it bragged about always being first and being 100% accurate in its initial coverage of the crash.


Others speculate that the fake names may have originated at KTVU itself, coming from perhaps a disgruntled current or former staffer. Personally, I would hope that is not the case. I would hope that journalistic ethics would trump any desire for revenge.

Lieberman also speculates that whoever gave KTVU the names, knew how the newsroom worked and timed the "tip" so that KTVU would rush to get the information on the air (which it admittedly did) and, perhaps, be less likely to catch that the names were fake (which it didn't).

In an alternative theory, the WASHINGTON POST cites a "person familiar with the sequence of events" at KTVU as saying the names came from "a trusted source" who had given the station solid info in the past. Except, this time, the information wasn't in fact, solid.

Cox, which owns KTVU, is reportedly doing an internal investigation into what happened. According to Rich Lieberman, Cox's internal security team includes former FBI and Secret Service agents. Clearly, Cox does not mess around. Maybe its folks can get to the bottom of just why that now former NTSB intern was so quick to "confirm" information that he couldn't know was right - because it was wrong! 

No matter the intern's role, I will not be surprised if at least one person at KTVU gets fired over this. It could be the news director (though he is said to have been out of the building at the time); it could be the general manager; it could be one of the staffers who "touched" the story.

Stay tuned.
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