Just how could it have happened that those schlock-comic-racist-bogus Asian names got on the air, anyway?

“Captain Sum Ting Wong” and pilot “Wi Tu Lo” are two of the names read on the air on Bay Area station KTVU and put up on the screen during a Friday newscast about the Asiana Airlines crash that killed three people.

The Asian American Journalists Assn. president let the station know about the group’s “outrage” over the “on-air blunder that made a mockery of the Asiana Airlines tragedy.”

KTVU and the anchor have apologized profusely, and the station pointed out that it had done what it was supposed to do before airing the story: It called the National Transportation Safety Board to check the names. Someone at the NTSB did confirm them -- as it turns out, a summer intern acting above his or her pay grade. Now the Twitterverse is full of fake names for that intern, such as “I.M. Dunn.”

Someone’s tracking this down at this moment, you can bet. In the meantime, here are some possibilities for how it happened:

  • The Ron Burgundy scenario from the movie “Anchorman.” The pompous, clueless TV newsreader who says on the air anything that’s put into his Teleprompter. Anything. You get my drift. Here’s the R-rated moment. 
  • The failure of the “dirty mind makes a clean newspaper” scenario. It’s one of the first things pounded into a fledgling reporter or editor’s head: Is there any way what you wrote can be misunderstood? There are collectors devoted to amassing such headlines, like the student newpaper story about a student whose father got a big promotion, headlined “Student excited dad got head job.”
  • The pulling-a-fast-one scenario. That the station got pranked by someone, outside or inside, and there weren’t enough mature eyeballs or ears to catch it. This is what can happen when news outfits keep laying off veterans, and the pressure to go online or on the air fast means stories with mistakes or factual holes just get sped along like a word bucket brigade. If the prank came from the inside, the prankster may have expected that the usual filters -- senior editors and copy readers -- would stop it before it saw the light of day. Then the newsroom would snicker over the kid trying to put one over on the old guys. If no one caught it and it reached readers or viewers, the prankster would get sent home to rethink his career options, or fired outright. Times reporters know from Day 1 not to put clever or funny “slugs” on their stories -- the brief internal-use-only descriptor of the story that the editors use -- lest that make its way into print.
  • “The ear gets what the eye doesn’t” scenario. KTVU Anchor Frank Somerville acknowledged that KTVU “never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out” before they went into the Teleprompter and out on the air. It’s a variant of the broken links in the professional chain scenario above, of speed versus thoroughness.
  • The innocence scenario. That truly, nobody actually heard or saw a problem in those words until they got on the air. We have been schooled for years to be more culturally sensitive, not to laugh at foreign accents or at foreign names that may sound hilarious or dirty in English. The low-water mark was the character named “Long Duk Dong” in the movie “16 Candles.” It was the cheapest kind of schtick, and it was 29 years ago. More than one generation has grown up being told, rightly, that it’s just not funny. So now, someone, maybe more than one someone at the station took the list at face value as authentic names and not fodder for jokes.

Asiana says it plans to sue the station for airing the fake names. I can’t see this suit going any further than a court’s polite round file. The station was clearly horrified that its filters and detectors didn’t work, so there was no evident malice. As for the charge of damaging the airline’s reputation: They have a fatal plane crash to account for. If the fake racist names seriously damaged anyone’s reputation, it’s the TV station’s.

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