Claim: A TV station was pranked with fake names for pilots involved in an airline crash.
Examples: [Collected via e-mail, July 2013]
Origins: One type of gag that has commonly been pulled on the news media by the public is pranksters feeding reporters fake names — appellations that look like real names in written form, but which form crude or nonsensical phrases when pronounced. (The name "Heywood Jablome" is one that has been used repeatedly.) In most cases reporters and editors catch the
One such "failure to catch" occurred on
In their 12 July report, KTVU announced that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had released the names of the four pilots on
Often in such cases news outlets are the recipients of erroneous information passed along to them by pranksters who have misrepresented themselves as belonging to law enforcement or government agencies, and the news agencies fail to validate the credentials of the persons relaying the information. In this instance it appears that KTVU did attempt to verify the information with the proper agency, but someone from the NTSB also contributed to gaffe by confirming the purported pilots' names. That agency's Office of Public Affairs soon issued a press release apologizing for the incident, stating that KTVU had been misled by "a summer intern [who] acted outside the scope of his authority":
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.
The station also issued a mea culpa on its web site outlining the mistakes it made in handling the report:
Then, during our phone call to the NTSB where the person confirmed the spellings of the names, we never asked that person to give us their position with the agency.
We heard this person verify the information without questioning who they were and then rushed the names on our noon newscast.