When I first moved to the Bay Area, in 1996 from Chicago, I couldn't believe how good the 10 p.m. KTVU newscast was. The station actually covered the news, and quite well, something that by that time had already become highly unusual among local stations.
Even in Chicago, which had a long, rich history of quality local newscasts, the game was already up. A vagabond schlock-news producer named Bill Applegate had by then turned Chicago's proud, CBS-owned WBBM-TV into a nonsense machine before he moved on to other cities to commit the same crime.
So KTVU was a godsend for me. It was serious, but not boring. It covered crime (because that's news too, after all), but kept it in its proper context rather than making it the driving force of the newscast.
All that is long gone, however, and KTVU is now just as awful as any other inane local newscast. Which is how something like the station's Asiana fiasco can happen.
Professional news organizations make mistakes, but they don't allow dumb racist jokes to make it onto the air.
Now, the station is trying to get clips of its self-humiliation removed from the Internet using .... copyright laws.
The invocation of copyrights to remove humiliating video is apparently becoming standard practice among TV news outlets. Another recent example involves the clip of Senator Elizabeth Warren taking some CNBC anchorbuffoons to school on the subject of bank regulation. They had no idea what they were talking about (despite their jobs and despite the fact that they pretend to know what they're talking about). Warren knew exactly what she was talking about, and the anchorbuffoons were humiliated. The video went viral before CNBC cited the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to get the video removed from Warren's YouTube page. This even though the network allows plenty of other politicians to post its clips on their YouTube pages.
CNBC at least pretended that its real interest was in protecting its intellectual property. KTVU took a different route, invoking copyright for reasons that have nothing to do with copyright. (Which is worse? Hard to know!) KTVU's general manager and vice president Tom Raponi said this to MediaBistro:
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. Consistent with our apology, we are carrying through on our responsibility to minimize the thoughtless repetition of the video by others.
So much to unpack there. "Accidental mistake"; people have already seen it, so now it's time to yank it from their view; "insensitive and offensive" as if making fun of KTVU's insensitive offensiveness is somehow itself offensive.
But the real trouble here is the copyright claim. Copyright doesn't exist to stop people from making fun of clownish local news stations. It exists to provide incentives to create -- and that's it. If KTVU believes that continuing to behave clownishly and to create inane piffle is in its own best interests (and by all appearances, that's exactly what it believes), copyright isn't part of its incentive for doing so. YouTube is riddled with clips from KTVU that have nothing to do with the Asiana crash. The station hasn't gone after those.
If television news operations want to stop themselves from being humiliated for their own actions, they have options other than invoking copyright as a means of censorship. They can start by refraining from being so consistently, reliably stupid.