How’s this for chutzpah: The June 10 “Today,” did a segment on the difficult process of jury selection for the George Zimmerman trial, given the highly publicized racial issues surrounding the case. NBC’s Carl Quintanilla asked “Today” Legal Expert Lisa Bloom, “Has media coverage already influenced this jury?”
Yes it has, and NBC has more to answer for than most. For a full week in March, 2012 NBC “Nightly News” and “Today,” along with its local Miami affiliate ran audio tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call the night he fatally shot Trayvon Martin. NBC viewers learned that Zimmerman had said to the 911 dispatcher, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
That was pretty damning evidence of racial profiling. It was also an entirely false representation of the 911 conversation. Someone at NBC had edited the tape to make Zimmerman appear racist. The unedited sequence of the call went like this:
Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”
Dispatcher: “OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?”
Zimmerman: “He looks black.”
When Newsbusters exposed the deceptive editing, NBC launched an “internal investigation” that resulted in an apology on April 3, 2012. NBC said “there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret.” The network apparently didn’t regret it enough to acknowledge it on air, even after it fired three people involved in the editing. Zimmerman filed a lawsuit against the network, which has yet to be heard in court.
Closing out that June 10 “Today” segment, Quintanilla said, “And we should know George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal, the parent company of this network, for defamation. The company has strongly denied his allegations.” That was it – no explanation.
But at least he mentioned the suit. Aside from obligatory mentions on “Today” and “Nightly News” when the suit was filed in December, NBC’s posture has been, “Move along – there’s nothing to see here.” Since NBC pulled the video on March 27, 2012, the network has reported on the Trayvon Martin shooting 202 times, and only mentioned Zimmerman’s lawsuit three times – never once explaining what specifically was at issue.
Just three days after NBC’s April 3, 2012, apology, Savannah Guthrie told “Today” viewers that “Zimmerman called police on a nonemergency line seven times in prior separate occasions. Each time Zimmerman reported suspicious looking men in the Sanford neighborhood he patrols. However they say until he was asked, Zimmerman never mentioned anything about their race.” That’s exactly the opposite of the behavior NBC smeared Zimmerman with in its edited audio – something Guthrie might have noted.
On April 11, 2012, reporting from Sanford, Fla., NBC’s Ron Allen said, “Sanford calls itself ‘The Friendly City,’ proud of its historic downtown and tranquil waterfront, and very uncomfortable with what some now see as its national image as a symbol of racial injustice.”
Then Allen, just days after NBC’s apology, actually said, “Outrage and a demand for justice [were] intensified by the public airing of police audio and video of some of what happened between George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense, and Trayvon Martin, that has hardened positions on both sides of the case.”
In a July 13, 2012, “Today” report, NBC’s Kerry Sanders managed to discuss the issue of whether Zimmerman was racially motivated and play relevant audio, without broaching the subject of NBC’s doctored tape.
Sanders reported that an FBI investigation had concluded after dozens of interviews with Zimmerman’s friends and co-workers that there was no evidence Zimmerman was racist. It quoted the Sanford PD’s lead investigator saying Zimmerman had been suspicious of Martin “based on his attire” (a hoodie like the local gangs wore) and not “skin color.” Sanders also played audio of a police dispatcher alerting officers that Martin was a “black male, late teens wearing a dark gray hoodie.” So, according to the FBI, the only racism Zimmerman ever displayed was on NBC’s phony tape. It would be nice if Sanders had acknowledged that.
Maybe NBC really believes itself innocent of intentionally creating racism out of audio whole cloth. But this much is certain: if George Zimmerman can get a fair trial, it will be no thanks to NBC.