Eric Wemple at the WaPo reports that George Zimmerman has filed suit against NBC. The network edited his 911 call on the night of February 26, snipping out portions of the conversation in a way that made it appear as if he had racially profiled Trayvon Martin, the black 17-year-old whom Zimmerman killed in a struggle after he placed the call. Zimmerman claims he acted in self-defense. The NBC edit of his 911 call suggested racism and malice. But the edit presented a false picture of the events of that night.
Lawyers for George Zimmerman filed suit today against NBC Universal Media over a well-publicized editing error that portrayed their client in racist terms in his pursuit of Trayvon Martin on a drizzly evening in February.
Flag on the play. This was no “editing error” as Wemple indicates. It was an internal content edit of audio that had to have been done deliberately. NBC cannot reasonably argue that it was merely editing the call to shorten it for broadcast. The network’s edit, which aired nationally on the Today show, materially changed the substance of the call. The edit added a racial angle that was not present at all in the original conversation. As we demonstrated here at PJM/PJTV, the edit as it was done could not have been an accident. NBC apparently agrees with our assessment, because it eventually fired producers who were involved in the edit.
So the Washington Post and Eric Wemple lead their story with a basic error in fact, which needs to be fixed. The basis of the lawsuit is that the NBC edit was not an error, but was deliberate. Wemple even quotes the lawsuit saying exactly that in the following paragraph.
“NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so to set about the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain,” states the civil complaint in its opening salvo against NBC.
Wemple later notes:
Zimmerman thus didn’t volunteer a racial profile of Martin; he was asked to provide it, a point that the lawsuit makes in colorful fashion: “NBC created this false and defamatory misimpression using the oldest form of yellow journalism: manipulating Zimmerman’s own words, splicing together disparate parts of the recording to create illusions of statements that Zimmerman never actually made.”
Following a public uproar over the tape-doctoring, NBC News issued a statement on the matter saying this: “During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret. We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers.”
Such contrition didn’t impress the Zimmerman camp. “Only after the defendants’ malicious acts were uncovered and exposed by other media outlets … did defendant NBC ‘apologize’ and terminate some of those in its employ responsible for the yellow journalism identified in this Complaint.” Zimmerman himself never received an apology from the defendants, according to the suit.
This was not contrition, it was backside-covering. NBC did not even publicly name anyone who was fired, leading to reasonable speculation that, in reality, no one was fired. The Zimmerman lawsuit might finally expose that, and expose the chain of producers and editors who approved airing the dishonest edit.
Additionally, despite what it now says, NBC evidently did not put any measures in place to prevent similar crimes from happening in the future. Just a few months after its Zimmerman edit, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell used a doctored video to smear then GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Eric Wemple of the Washington Post even reported on that incident. Curiously, he does not mention it in today’s report. Surely it’s relevant? Is the Post helping NBC minimize its actions? If so, why?
NBC says it intends to “vigorously” defend itself in court. Let’s hope the network does that, and let’s hope that Zimmerman’s lawyers mine the Internet for all of the instances in which that network has engaged in gross media malpractice. NBC’s bad habit of engaging in yellow journalism goes back several decades.