Asiana Airlines Suit Against KTVU Is "Spectacularly Inadvisable," Legal Experts Say
Assuming that its reputation wasn't already ruined after four pilots crashed a Boeing 777 into a seawall, Asiana Airlines has decided to sue local news station KTVU for seriously botching the pilots' names in a way that will certainly go down in media history.
Captain Wi Soo Yoo was reportedly not on the plane
Airline spokesman Ki Won Suh said in an e-mail this morning that the station hadn't just defamed Asiana, but also disparaged Asians in general when it erroneously identified the four pilots of Flight 224 as -- ahem -- Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Bang Ding Ow, and Ho Lee Fuk.
See Also: KTVU Totally Screws Up Asiana Pilots Names.
But the deck seems a bit stacked against Asiana as it gears up to file a lawsuit in the U.S, Court system, where First Amendment protections are strong enough to obviate even the most convincing defamation complaints. In fact, San Francisco-based free speech attorney Joshua Koltun projects that the South Korean airline's chance of success is virtually non-existent.
"They have no chance," Koltun said, upon hearing reports that the company is drafting its complaint in Seoul. "And under the circumstances," he added, "I think it would be spectacularly inadvisable."
To prove its case, Asiana and its lawyers will have to first prove that the fake names were uttered -- and received -- as a sincere statement of fact, and that the station had reported them maliciously. "The first hurtle here is that listeners, within a moment of registering, would recognize that these were not the names of real people -- particularly in light of the apology that immediately followed," Koltun said.
Nor would it be sufficient for Asiana to prove that the person who smuggled those names in had intended them as some kind of racist comment, he continued. That, too, would be protected by the First Amendment. Asiana couldn't even win if it proved that listeners had, indeed, interpreted the names as fact, because there's really no way for the airline to prove that an unsavory joke had done any material damage to its profile.
Spokespeople from KTVU could not be reached for comment, but the station explained, in its second mea culpa on Friday, that it hadn't read the names out loud before an anchor said them on a live broadcast. KTVU fact-checkers had also failed to get the title of the National Transportation Safety Board staffer who confirmed the names -- and who turned out to be a well-intentioned but ill-advised summer intern.
In the end, a short concatenation of complete screw-ups could turn into a long, convoluted saga once this suit proceeds to court. The good news is that it could provide some spectacularly inadvisable entertainment for news viewers out there.