Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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Blog posts July 2013

The other shoe(s) have started dropping at KTVU in the wake of the so-called "Namegate" scandal.

Late last night, San Francisco media blogger Rich Lieberman REPORTED that several KTVU staffers have now been fired. They include the station's investigative producer and the special projects producer, both of whom have worked at the station for long periods of time. It's unclear exactly what they did that resulted in the station airing fake, racially-insensitive names of the pilots on the Asiana Airlines plane that crashed at SFO on July 6.

Also fired was a producer who supposedly had no part in the story, but who Tweeted "Oh s**t!" just moments after the names aired on July 12. His sin seems to be violating the station's policy for social media.

Also out the door is the veteran producer of KTVU's noon newscast. He reportedly retired for health reasons. Lieberman cites sources who say the producer announced his intention to retire before the crash ever happened, and it's unclear if he played any role in bringing the fake names to air.

The firings and retirement at KTVU follow an internal investigation by Cox, the media conglomerate that owns KTVU. Lieberman is hearing that more people could be fired, but he also NAMES a few key players who appear to be safe.

While we now know who is paying for the systemic failure surrounding this incident, KTVU has yet to give an accounting of any kind of how this whole thing happened in the first place. According to SFGATE.COM, the fake names were emailed to the station by an expert source who had helped out KTVU in the past. also reports that the names had been circulating on the Internet for at least a couple of days before the source emailed them to KTVU. Sfgate says its information came from sources of its own.

As best as I can tell, the information in the sfgate article is the most definitive explanation I've seen for how the names were introduced into the newsroom.

But, even though that question has finally been answered (by someone other than KTVU, I might add), there are still plenty of other questions out there - including how these fake names, which had supposedly be circulating on the Internet for a couple of days, got past a staff that included a veteran investigative reporter, a veteran special projects producer and a veteran newscast producer. These are not interns or people who just got out of college. These are people who spent years in the news business. How did this happen on their watch?

Beyond that, still to be learned is why KTVU's source emailed the names to the newsroom in the first place; why the newsroom took them seriously; how could no one, as KTVU claims, have said these names out loud.

KTVU has already tried - and failed - to get the myriad of news clips of the erroneous broadcast removed from YouTube. Maybe it's time for KTVU to try a different strategy and explain, once and for all, how this happened.

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What Have We Learned?

It's been nearly 10 days since the now infamous "Namegate" episode involving KTVU and the airing of fake, racially insensitive names for the pilots involved in a deadly plane crash in San Francisco.

What we have learned since then about how this happened is not much.

What other TV stations and news organizations have learned about now to not let this happen to them may be a lot more.

Here's the latest rundown of what we know and what we don't know:

We know that KTVU has apologized for the error.

We know that KTVU says that no one actually said the fake names out loud before they made it to air.

We know that anyone with a working knowledge of a television newsroom does not understand how NO ONE could have said those names out loud beforehand, especially since the station says it called the NTSB for confirmation.

We know that the NTSB sacked a summer intern who it said was just trying to be helpful when he overstepped his bounds and "confirmed" the fake names.

We know that Cox, the company that owns KTVU, has ordered an internal investigation into what happened. The investigation has reportedly concluded, but we don't know if anyone at KTVU has been fired or otherwise punished.

There's now WORD that KTVU is trying to get clips of the broadcast removed from YouTube. Good luck with that.

But, I think that what we DON'T know is way more interesting.

We don't know where the information came from. There have been reports that the fake names came from a "trusted" source; there's been speculation that someone at a competing news organization - or even a current or former KTVU staffer - could have provided the names. We don't know because KTVU hasn't said.

We don't know how the fake names came into the newsroom or who first handled the information. Did someone make a phone call? If so, who answered the phone? Were the names sent by email? If so, who got the email? Were the names faxed? Maybe texted? Who saw them first? We don't know because KTVU hasn't said.

Once the fake names were introduced to the station, what happened? What did the person who first got the names do next? We know that, at some point, someone called the NTSB. We know that, at some point, someone put the names onto a fullscreen graphic. We know that, at some point, someone wrote a script for the anchor to read. But, exactly how did the names get from source to screen? How many people "touched" this story before it made air? We don't know because KTVU hasn't said.

We don't know what the intern at the NTSB was thinking when he "confirmed" names that a) he had no business confirming; and b) he couldn't possibly know were right. Just what did KTVU say when he answered the phone? Just what did he say? We don't know because neither he, the NTSB, nor KTVU has said.

We don't know how these fake names could have possibly made it to air without anyone saying them out loud and/or hearing them said out loud. That's basically what KTVU is asking us to believe, but we don't know how that happened because KTVU hasn't said.

KTVU may have apologized, but an apology falls far short of explaining exactly how this happened.

If there's any good to come of this, it's that many other news organizations are reviewing their own policies and procedures to make sure that what happened to KTVU doesn't happen to them.

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Lawsuit? What Lawsuit?

Kind of a slow day in "Namegate."

For those of you just tuning in, "Namegate" is what some observers have taken to calling the events surrounding KTVU's airing of racially-insensitive, fake names for the pilots on board the Asiana Airlines plane that recently crashed in San Francisco.

When last we left, Asiana was threatening to sue KTVU for what the airline said was damage to its reputation. But, today, the airline changed its mind.

THIS report from Reuters quotes a statement put out by Asiana. The statement says that it decided not to sue after KTVU issued a formal apology. Besides, the statement continues, the airline needs to focus on "managing the aftermath of the accident." No doubt that aftermath will include several lawsuits against the airline itself. At least one class-action lawsuit has already been filed against Boeing, the maker of the 777 jet that crashed.

Other than that, there's not much to report. The folks over at NEWSBLUES (here's the link, but you'll need a subscription to go beyond the home page) say they're being told by sources that Cox, the family-owned media conglomerate that owns KTVU, has finished its internal investigation into just how those obviously fake names made it on air. NewsBlues does not say if the investigation has led to any consequences for anyone at KTVU.

Stay tuned.

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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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