If you haven't heard of the massive screw-up by San Francisco's KTVU-TV following the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, you probably haven't been on the Internet in the past few days.
On Friday -- less than a week after the flight crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport, leading to three deaths and dozens of injuries -- an anchorwoman for the station ticked off the names of the four pilots on board the flight from a teleprompter to incredulous viewers. Those names included "Captain Sum Ting Wong," "Wi Tu Lo" and "Bang Ding Ow."
Oh Em Jee.
It apparently had escaped news editors that they were being pranked.
While it's easy to blow this off as yet another media organization sacrificing facts for a scoop, we think it can be a launching pad to have a conversation about what people want in their news. Timely reporting is paramount, but it can't come at the expense of accurate information.
After video of the botched newscast went viral, we asked ourselves, "How does that even happen?" It's simple, really. You take a major story and mix it with a 24-hour news cycle and hasty fact-checking. KTVU's error, unfortunately, has plenty of company. After bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line in April, The New York Post ran a cover story featuring two young men and the headline "BAG MEN: Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon." Turns out the men were innocent, and now they're suing the tabloid for libel. Last summer, in an effort to break the news first, both CNN and Fox News erroneously reported that the Supreme Court had struck down the Affordable Care Act.
Criticizing other media organizations' mistakes, we realize, puts us in the proverbial glass house. We're all painfully human, and that's why we run corrections. To their credit, KTVU did issue a mea culpa for the blunder, and the National Transportation Safety Board blamed an intern for confirming the bogus names. That didn't stop Asiana Airlines from announcing Monday that it plans to sue the station for damaging its reputation. On Tuesday, the company decided it had more important things to focus on and the lawsuit is no more.
While we can certainly empathize with a TV station's desire to report an exclusive, that's not as important as the responsibility for accuracy. Consumers need to demand accuracy and hold media organizations accountable when they fall short of that standard.
The same day as the KTVU mistake aired, the Pew Research Center released a report that found public esteem for journalists has plummeted over the last four years. While 38 percent of people polled in 2009 said journalists contribute "a lot" to society's well-being, only 28 percent said the same in 2013. We think part of that dip stems from the mistakes that happen when media organizations rush to be first, rather than to be right.
The public deserves facts, not fiction, even if that means taking a few extra minutes, calling an additional source and maybe -- just maybe -- reading aloud a few names.