KTVU’s Asiana Airlines Debacle: They fired some people, but you can’t fire racism

Three mid-level managers at KTVU-Oakland, CA were fired over the broadcasting of fake Asian names in the coverage of the Asiana Airlines crash Wednesday, according to reports on

It was first reported on Rich Lieberman’s 415 Media website.

Years ago, I knew professionally one of those fired, investigative producer Roland De Wolk.

De Wolk was a tough-minded, hard-ass, gotcha kind of guy, befitting a hard-charging “investigative producer” type. Not one to let a slip like the names fiasco get through him and on the air.

But as a veteran in management, he probably was getting a paycheck big enough to let station brass make the firings “look good.”

The others named, a special project producer and a producer, are all higher up the food chain than that NTSB intern who is said to have confirmed the slip-up to the station over the phone.

These KTVU firings weren’t flunkies. But it may have been the only way to spare the jobs of the higher-ups, GM Tom Raponi and News Director Lee Rosenthal, at least for now. Ultimately, it’s all under their watch that the KTVU brand has gone from news jewel to laughingstock.

The anchor who read the names, Tori Campbell, was spared, likely because she was on an AFTRA union contract. It probably cost the station more to fire her than the other managers combined.

But Campbell’s voice and face is all over YouTube, and if she were thinking while she was reading, she represented the station’s last line of defense.

And she failed.

But anchors–and I’ve been there–especially in breaking news situations, are often heavily dependent on the producers who are talking into their invisible earpieces and barking out word for word what should be read on-the-air. Hence, the importance of the all-knowing, all-responsible producers. So they get the axe. Campbell may still have her job, but she will forever be linked to this incident in that infamous TV blooper Hall of Shame.

As will KTVU, no matter how many people they fire.

That is, unless the station makes its next 10 hires Asian American and becomes the de facto “Asian American” station in English in the Bay Area. That doesn’t mean just covering photo ops and the like. Every day there are news stories happening in the Asian American community that you see reported in the professional ethnic press, both in-language and in English. Unfortunately, too often those stories aren’t deemed important enough for general coverage.

But why, when San Francisco itself is about 1/3 Asian American in population?

In media, there’s a general attitude that ethnic audiences that speak English will just come to the mainstream. But here’s an opportunity for KTVU and others.

But given what seems to be a general ignorance of the community and its sensitivities by corporate management, I doubt we’ll see a departure from the norm–homogenized coverage, indifferent to minority communities.

So there is a way out for the station. People won’t stop watching “The Simpsons.”

But the mighty iconic Bay Area Fox station, normally known for its journalistic soundness and that relied heavily on local news for revenues, has definitely been humbled.

And the only thing keeping its competitors in the market from crowing publicly is they all know they too are a stupid gaffe away from KTVU’s predicament.

This is the one area that the firings don’t address. A station takes responsibility and fires people, but it never addresses where the names came from?

How do you fire racism?

If you’ve ever sat in the press/media box at a news event, you know reporters are predominantly male. Mostly older. And with older sensitivities. There’s a gallows-like humor and a frat house mentality. Still. Women who break in discover the sexism. And reporters like myself know how racist things can be.

When I worked at a major affiliate in San Francisco television, I was the first Filipino American reporter at the station.

Dare I repeat the number of Filipino racist jokes told to me by my new white colleagues? All of them managers.

It was the way they knew how to relate. It made them comfortable. Ha ha, and welcome.

The Asiana situation showed me that things haven’t changed all that much in a generation.

Indeed, sitting in a media area just yesterday, I overheard two young white male reporters talk about the Asiana situation as if in a bar,I one of them even adding a “Love U Long Time” reference.

It’s in the news culture. It’s in society.

If Ho Lee Fuk can still get on the air, we have a ways to go, and not just at KTVU.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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