First KTVU blamed the National Transportation Safety Board for supplying fake Asiana pilot names. Then it invoked copyright law to cover up its now-infamous broadcast gaffe. Now, KTVU might have finally gotten to the root of the problem.
Yesterday local news outlets reported that three veteran producers were fired over the Asiana name-gate. Investigative producer Roland De Wolk, special projects producer Cristina Gastelu, and producer Brad Belstock all had to pack up their desks after an in-house investigation. KTVU's General Manager Tom Raponi wouldn't confirm the firings, saying in an email to SF Weekly "It is KTVU's policy to not comment on any personnel issues. Thank you."
What we learned, though, is that one of those producers allegedly had another journalistic mishap.
Veteran reporter Roland De Wolk spent decades in the news business before his ouster from KTVU, and in that time he earned a somewhat checkered reputation. A couple months ago, he was allegedly involved in another news dust-up that was less damaging than the Asiana name mess, since KTVU managed to keep it out of the news.
De Wolk had interviewed Micah Lee, a technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ostensibly for a story about a hacker-prank called "doxing" -- which is publishing info ("docs") about someone else on the Internet.
But when the interview aired, Lee says he was shocked to see the story itself had nothing to do with doxing; it was about a different prank called "swatting" which happens when someone calls 911 to report a hostage situation or terrorist threat at someone else's house, to get a SWAT team to bust down the door.
Lee says had never heard of swatting until he watched the segment -- and he wouldn't have even watched the segment, had someone not tweeted at him the night it aired, asking if he really thought "swatting" should be protected by free speech laws. It turned out De Wolk had slotted the dox interview into the swatting segment, using Lee's quotes to make it look as though the Electronic Frontier Foundation had taken a public stance on the issue. It even appeared as though Lee opposed new legislation to curb swatting.
Lee wrote, in a blog post, that he hadn't heard about the trend until he saw himself apparently discussing it on KTVU, but that swatting "seems like a dick move to me." But he'd also apparently been dicked by De Wolk, as he claimed in a blog post about the incident -- appropriately titled "Swatting Is Not the Same As Doxing."
"The question I was asked was whether or not I think we should pass new laws to combat doxing (he didn't mention the word "swatting" the entire interview)," Lee wrote, saying that he'd been duped.
Thus began a long, protracted, insult-laden battle between the EFF and the news station, which ultimately led De Wolk's former boss, Gastelu (also fired yesterday, also disgraced) to remove the offending story. Since De Wolk wouldn't explain how Lee's errant interview segment got inserted into the wrong story, EFF staff were left wondering what went wrong.
EFF spokesman Dave Maass pointed out, however, that De Wolk never acknowledged the error in subsequent conversations with EFF, many of which turned into fierce arguments.
"I'm not inside Roland's head," Maass said. "But he came here for doxing and e-mail security -- those were the two subjects identified for the interview. Then this story about swatting came out and we were shocked."
The story is no longer available on KTVU's website, but we found a transcript for you to enjoy.
Lee apparently didn't raise much of a stink, beyond his blog rebuttal, and thus KTVU's blunder wasn't widely reported like the Asiana gaffe. We tried reaching station director Lee Rosenthal for comment, but he has yet to respond. De Wolk said he stands by the swatting story, but wouldn't comment on the fake Asiana pilot names or on his own dismissal. He said his lawyers had advised him to keep quiet.