NBC continues to characterize its deceptive edit of George Zimmerman’s 911 call a “mistake.” The edited version, in which George Zimmerman says Trayvon Martin “looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black” appeared on the Today show and on NBC’s web properties. That edit put racial concerns front and center in a story that may not have been about race at all. But could the edit really be a mistake?
Is it possible for such an internal edit that substantially alters the nature of Zimmerman’s call with the 911 dispatcher to happen by chance? As an audio and video editor for going on 20 years, in my opinion it is highly implausible and close to impossible for that edit to have occurred by chance. Watch this video and you’ll see why.
In the edit booth, whether the editor was working with Final Cut Pro, as our editor was, or Adobe Premiere Pro or Avid or Audacity or Soundbooth — whatever the editing platform used — the Zimmerman edit took several steps. The audio track had to be placed on a timeline for editing. In and out points had to be set around the words that the editor wanted to remove. Then the editor had to remove those words with a delete action. Then the resulting edit had to be smoothed over, probably with a crossfade, to remove pops or abrupt changes in the background noise. Video or imagery had to be overlayed, since the edited sound was destined to play on the visuals-heavy Today show. The file had to be saved, and since it was edited in Florida, had to be transferred to NBC New York over the Internet. Whether the video was added in New York or Florida, teams of producers in Florida and New York must have seen the clip and heard the audio before it aired. Surely more than a single editor in Florida heard both the original audio file and the deceptive edit. Lawyers would likely have looked it over prior to airing it. The final say would have gone to executive producer Jim Bell, who is described in his official NBC bio as a “hands on” producer.
Along the way, someone had to transcribe the sound for posting on the Web. MSNBC’s version was identical to the Today version — both omitted the section in which it is clear that Zimmerman only notes Martin’s race in response to an informational question from the dispatcher. Omitting that section changed the entire nature of the clip, and significantly altered the story’s trajectory.
Can all of this happen by chance? It’s about as likely as getting struck by lightning, I suppose: Possible but on the very edge of probability. The most likely explanation is that the network edited the Zimmerman call the way it did on purpose.