You’ve probably heard about the airline crash reporting fiasco. Last Friday during a live midday newscast, KTVU TV in San Francisco reported as fact that the names of the pilots on board the Asiana airlines flight that recently crashed in that city were “Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow.”
Shortly thereafter it was determined that the information, which the television station allegedly acquired from the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”), was not factual, but instead a racially insensitive joke. Within less than thirty-six hours after the incident not only had KTVU’s management apologized (multiple times), but so also had the NTSB, admitting that a “summer intern” had “acted outside the scope of his authority” and had quite intentionally provided false information to the news agency.
The damage done in this situation is probably incalculable at this point. Has KTVU TV, or any of its employees, sustained damage to their credibility? Will the television station be sued for their “insensitivity,” or might the NTSB be sued by KTVU? Nobody wins in any of these scenarios, yet they are all plausible.
Instead of merely laughing at the incident – or being offended or angry – Americans should stop and consider what is to be learned from it. Even local small businesses and non-profit organizations should consider how they, too, could be mislead by a government agency or drawn in to a controversy quite un-intentionally.
It’s convenient to blame this all on a “summer intern.” But we are talking about the NTSB, an agency of our government that we trust in times of crisis to investigate such things, and we presume that the information they give us is accurate and will be helpful.
So once again, trust in our U.S. federal government has been violated. It fits a pattern. It’s similar to the U.S. Department of Justice, an agency that we trust to investigate and prosecute crimes fairly and equitably, having spent our tax dollars to fund “protestors” at the trial of George Zimmerman. It falls in line with the IRS using its power to target and harass religious and educational groups who articulate opinions that are different from President Obama’s. It is despicable and it is should not be tolerated.
But what would happen if your place of business (or your school or church or other non-profit organization) received a call or a visit from somebody purporting to represent a government agency, and that person was conveying some sort of “vital” information? Would you know how to handle that appropriately? Would you be prepared to fact-check it and verify it?
What if that person was making an inquiry – demanding to search the premises, investigate personnel, or some such thing – would you and your associates know to demand to see a search warrant or some other appropriate court documents? If a federal agency like the NTSB can mislead an entire big-city news outlet, then a local, regional, state or federal government agency could easily manipulate most local small businesses and non-profit operations. It’s sad, but it is our reality – Americans are in many ways “on the run” from their government, and we do ourselves no favors by pretending otherwise.
When agents of government can’t be trusted to follow the laws of the land, it becomes more difficult to expect lawfulness from those whom government is supposed to serve. Hopefully a critical mass of Americans will soon wake up and began demanding better government. But for now this is the government that many of us have asked for, while many others have passively allowed it to ensue. The wiser among us will be honest about this, and take appropriate precautions.