PR Blunders 101: Trying to Remove Viral Internet Content

Two weeks ago a summer intern at the National Transportation and Safety Board answered a media inquiry with made-up and racially insensitive names of the pilots on Asiana Airlines flight 214 that crashed on July 6. KTVU, the local San Francisco FOX affiliate that asked for the names to be released, read exactly what the NTSB intern sent them, setting off a PR firestorm and viral outrage from the Internet.

pilots2KTVU has felt the brunt of the attacks. While many people are calling them racist, careless is a more appropriate moniker. Very few people would actually believe two of the pilots’ names were “Captain Sum Ting Wong” and “Wi Tu Lo.” They explained their missteps later that day in an on-air apology:

We made several mistakes when we received this information. First, we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out. 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.

Now that a few weeks have passed, KTVU is almost in the clear from their PR crisis. The world is moving on and the station is fading back into obscurity. At least, that’s what would happen, had they not demanded that YouTube remove all of the videos in the name of Copyright Law.

pilots1According to Wired, KTVU issued notices to YouTube for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA mandates that website owners have to remove content at the Copyright owner’s request. Trying to bury the evidence is a major Internet no-no, and the only thing worse is burying the evidence under false pretenses. Enter Tom Raponi, KTVU’s general manager, to TVSpy:

The accidental mistake we made was insensitive and offensive.  By now, most people have seen it.  At this point, continuing to show the video is also insensitive and offensive, especially to the many in our Asian community who were offended.

KTVU wants to have the videos removed to offend less people, not at all to have their shame wiped off the face of YouTube. The SFist pointed out one small flaw in their logic: what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet in one way or another. If anything, this move just makes the video even more coveted.

In many of the TVSpy comments, readers said that they weren’t included in the “most people” who had seen the video but KTVU’s new PR stink made them seek it out. Others found clips of news stations and comedy shows covering the blunder and posted them for reference. KTVU might get the videos removed from YouTube, but they would have to track down Comedy Central, CNN, MSNBC and countless other news channels to remove the content before they would even make a dent in the amount of online videos out there.

Had KTVU let the crisis play out, their news mentions would have cooled by now and they might have had a shred of dignity to their name. This move has only brought them back into the spotlight and made them look sleazy, which is far worse than careless.

About the author

Amanda Dodge