KTVU Fires Producers Over Asiana Fake Name Debacle

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SMFsmallThe Rush to Be First Comes at a High Price

“The first response is often the second crisis.”  Firestorm CEO Harry Rhulen

In observing the retractions, apologies and firings that have occurred after the misreporting of the Asiana Pilot names, this may be a good time to reflect on your own company’s ability to respond to a fast-breaking crisis with accuracy and maturity.

According to a variety of news sources, television station KTVU has fired three producers over the on-air reporting debacle that incorrectly named the pilots in the Asiana 214 crash – using fake, racially insensitive names.

Investigate Producer Roland De Wolk, Special Projects Producer Cristina Gastelu, and Producer Brad Belstock were fired on 7/24/2013.

Another veteran news producer, Elvin Sledge had announced his retirement prior to the Asiana broadcast.

Mr. Belstock was fired for his “Oh Sh*t” tweet that went out immediately after, in violation of KTVU’s social-media policy.


The Associated Press wire, which KTVU subscribes to, had correctly identified both pilots two days earlier as Lee Gang-guk and Lee Jeong-min.

Tori Campbell, who read the names on the broadcast, has not been fired.  Both the station and Ms. Campbell issued a brief apology on-air and via social media:


In an email to the Los Angeles Times, NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the agency does not “discuss or disclose information relating to personnel matters” but “has taken appropriate action to deal with the situation.”

“In addition,” Nantel wrote, “we are reviewing our policies and procedures to determine where we might be able to strengthen them so that this kind of situation doesn’t happen again.”

A July 12 statement published on the NTSB website reads:

‘The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots of Asiana flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6.’

‘Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft.’

‘The NTSB does not release or confirm the names of crewmembers or people involved in transportation accidents to the media. 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.’

On his blog, reported: “A usually-reliable aviation expert provided San Francisco FOX affiliate KTVU-TV with four erroneous names.”

This incident happened days after station made a web promo hyping its crash coverage:

“This past weekend viewers flocked to KTVU Channel 2 News for coverage of the tragic crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

KTVU Channel 2 News owned this breaking news story with a number of firsts!

– First on-air.
– First on-line.
– First with alerts to mobile devices.
– First on Twitter & Facebook.
– First with aerial shots from KTVU NewsChopper 2.
– First with a live reporter from the scene.
– First live interview with anyone connected to someone on the flight.

“Being first on air and on every platform in all aspects of our coverage was a great accomplishment, but being 100% accurate, effectively using our great sources and social media without putting a single piece of erroneous information on our air, is what we are most proud of as a newsroom.”

In the rush to be first, to be competitive, to be “the trusted voice,” the voice of KTVU became anything but. Producer Brad Belstock compounded the issue by his use of social media to then exacerbate the situation rather than mitigate it. This is especially disheartening when coming from a senior person in the organization.  Producer Belstock quickly deleted his tweet and later deleted his entire Twitter account. While we can certainly imagine what he was saying to himself in his mind at the time, why Tweet it?

It’s a question of maturity and training once again.



Please join me for an upcoming Social Media Firestorm Webinar, July 31 from 2-3 PM Eastern, as we look at this and other recent incidents and explore tools and approaches to help keep you in Crisis-Ready mode should you experience a Social Media Firestorm.

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