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Dec 6, 2012 No Comments ›› Chuck Biscuits

Excerpted from The Washington Post: 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.

“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.

NBC’s editing of the 911 audiotape in the Martin case became a public fixation after the media-monitoring Web site NewsBusters.org noted editing oddities on a “Today” show broadcast March 27. Here’s how NBC News portrayed the audiotape:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

The full tape 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.

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.”

The suit against NBC alleges four other instances in which NBC-produced shows aired false and defamatory versions of the same events. Zimmerman faces a second-degree murder charge in the case.

The botched edits, charges the suit, were far from innocent mistakes: “Defendants pounced on the Zimmerman/Martin matter because they knew this tragedy could be, with proper sensationalizing and manipulation, a racial powderkeg that would result in months, if not years, of topics for their failing news programs, particularly the plummeting ratings for their ailing “Today Show” as well as for the individual defendants to “make their mark” for reporting a [manipulated] story such as this.” Individual defendants are Lilia Luciano and Jeff Burnside, NBC employees involved in early cases of Zimmerman mis-editing.

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.

The suit doesn’t specify a dollar amount of damages that Zimmerman is seeking. “That’s showmanship,” says James Beasley, the Philadelphia-based lawyer representing Zimmerman in the suit.

Beasley declined to comment on whether he’d already had any discussions with NBC. “I don’t want to talk about that. I can’t talk about that. But let’s just say I don’t think it’s going to get settled.”

On that question, at least, Beasley and NBC appear to agree. When asked about the complaint, NBC Universal issued this statement: “We strongly disagree with the accusations made in the complaint. There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly. We intend to vigorously defend our position in court.”

MIAMI (Reuters) – A Florida man sued NBC on Thursday, saying the network intentionally edited and repeatedly aired a non-emergency phone call he made to police before shooting and killing unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin “to create the myth” that he was a racist.

Attorneys for George Zimmerman, who maintains he shot Martin in self-defense in February during a struggle, said the lawsuit seeking an undisclosed amount in damages was filed in the same central Florida court where he will stand trial in June for murder.

“NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, so it set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain,” the defamation lawsuit says.

“NBC created this false and defamatory misimpression using the oldest form of yellow journalism: manipulating Zimmerman’s owns words, splicing together disparate parts of the (police) recording to create the illusion of statements that Zimmerman never actually made.”

But NBC denied any wrongdoing in a statement issued late on Thursday.

“We strongly disagree with accusations made in the complaint. There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly. We intend to vigorously defend our position in court,” the statement said.

The edit in question, which aired on the network’s flagship “Today” morning show in April, made it appear that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, told police that Martin was black without being asked.

In fact, the full tape reveals that Zimmerman only did so when responding to a question posed by a dispatcher.

NBC News president Steve Capus told Reuters in April that the edit was a “mistake, not deliberate” misrepresentation.

Capus said at the time that a producer made the editing error, and that the network’s editorial controls – including senior broadcast producer oversight, script editors and often legal and standards department reviews of sensitive material to be broadcast – simply missed the selective editing of the phone call.

The network apologized to its viewers in a statement, and two NBC news staffers named as defendants in the lawsuit were fired.

But the complaint says the network never apologized to Zimmerman “for deliberately portraying him as a hostile racist who targeted Martin due to his race.”

The misleading audio edit of the call led to significant pressure on the network from critics who claimed it had exacerbated already inflamed racial tension surrounding the case.

“You cannot look at the way that tape was crafted and aired, and not believe that there was intent there,” Zimmerman’s lawyer Mark O’Mara said on Thursday.

“I think what they were trying to do was beat everyone to the punch in calling him (Zimmerman) a racist,” O’Mara said.

“In today’s media environment you have to act immediately, and you have to act sensationally if you’re going to get attention,” he added.

NBC News is part of NBC Universal Media, a unit of Comcast Corp.