No Boating Accident: The NBC 911 Scandal, and the News Media’s Dilemma

Yup...boating accident! George Zimmerman looks cute in this photo, don't you think?

NBC completed its internal investigation into why the middle of the audio of George Zimmerman’s 911 call was edited out, making him sound like a racist. To recap, here is what was on the recording:

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.

And here’s the version played on NBC, MSNBC, and posted on the MSNBC website:

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

This was no boating accident: this was the Great White shark of intentional news media misrepresentation and tape doctoring, in the middle of a racially charged incident, with one man dead and his killer being subjected to credible death threats, and irresponsible demagogues accusing him of a hate crime. This could not have been accidental, but if by some miracle it was, NBC is under an obligation to explain how it could have happened, though such an explanation would probably look like the famous photo of loyal Nixon secretary Rosemary Woods gamely showing reporters how she “inadvertently” erased a key 18 minute segment of the incriminating Watergate tapes.

But no. Here is the complete text of NBC’s announcement following its inquiry:

“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.”

Would NBC ever accept such a whitewash from a politician or a corporate executive after a scandal of similar proportions? Well, maybe if the politician was President Obama, but generally, no. By intentionally attempting to color public perception of George Zimmerman by doctoring evidence and representing it as accurate, NBC stopped being a reporter of the Trayvon Martin death and became a participant in it.

It had already allowed its broadcast personnel to do this, by standing by as  Rev. Al Sharpton to simultaneously leads rallies during the day and reports on the story on MSNBC at night, but this conflict of interest is even worse that Sharpton’s. NBC has a duty as a news organization to report on this historic episode in which a major U.S. network lied to its audience to fuel a lynch mob. But if it does so, and evidence that the sinister editing was not the work of a technician possessed by the demon Pazuzu but rather the result of inadequate controls and oversight at the network, or worse, ideologically motivated deception by NBC officials, NBC will have simultaneously destroyed its reputation and handed George Zimmerman a massive libel suit verdict.

The result: weasel words and a cover-up. There was also, you will note, no apology to the man NBC smeared, George Zimmerman. At the Washington Post, Eric Wemple writes, “In light of all that’s happened, Zimmerman may be a tough person for a news network to apologize to, but that’s just the point: Apologies are hard.” Wait a minute: what’s “in light of all that’s happened” have to do with anything? NBC is supposed to be objective and neutral, and fair to everyone on all sides of a story. Why does NBC, as a professional news organization,  have any feelings about Zimmerman, and why should they make an apology “hard” when NBC is the party that violated core ethical principles to intentionally make him look guilty, to inflame activists, some of whom want to kill him, and to mislead its own audience and the public at large? “In light of all that’s happened” Zimmerman would be justified to throw NBC’s apology back it its peacock face.

If American journalism had any remaining integrity, the other networks and investigative reporters from newspapers far and wide would be independently investigating their corrupt colleagues at NBC, and find out when NBC knew it was using a fake transcript and recording, and how they made it onto television and the internet.

And I have to ask: now are all those liberal defenders of the mainstream news media’s objectivity willing to admit that the it has become untrustworthy and biased to a frightening degree? When Shirley Sherrod sued Andrew Breitbart for deceptively presenting the middle of a speech she gave to the NAACP, where she admitted discriminating against a white man, but leaving out the end, where she talked about her realization it isn’t race but class that matters, the episode was cited as proof of the conservative media’s dishonesty and bias. (I never trusted Breitbart’s websites again.) The editing done by NBC was much, much worse, and this wasn’t an admittedly ideologically driven website, but NBC, a pioneer and icon in broadcast journalism.

Go ahead…tell me that this isn’t symptomatic of the  lack of ethics and fairness in today’s journalism. Tell me that what NBC did couldn’t just as plausibly have  been done by any of the networks. Tell me that NBC’s brethren aren’t going to let the network get away with its vague, protective, lawyer-drafted cover-up. Tell me that the American journalistic establishment doesn’t routinely slant and manipulate its news to appeal to the biases of its imagined audience and the political views of its reporters and editors.

You can tell me, but I won’t believe you.

21 thoughts on “No Boating Accident: The NBC 911 Scandal, and the News Media’s Dilemma

  1. I know I may be ignoring one of those “razors” – can never keep them straight in my head – Occam’s? Or that other one, the name of which I can’t even recall right now? Or maybe, one of those razors, which ordinarily might apply, does NOT apply this time? Anyway, given that we had Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” maybe this time, NBC will claim a “software malfunction” (in some editing machine). It won’t sell to me.

  2. Libel is incredibly difficult to prove in court.

    Dollars to donuts that when the libel suit comes forward – and even if Zimmerman is tried and convicted in Martin’s death I’ve no doubt that it will (maybe especially so, in that the NBC audio could be argued as contaminating the jury pool) – some junior audio editor will be pushed forward to claim he/she made the edit under strict time constraints and he was editing to a clock, and some producer will testify that they failed to adequately check on the veracity of the edit. In other words, it was an unfortunate mistake and we’re all so, so very sorry.

    NBC has already lied to the nation. No reason to believe they wouldn’t try perjury if they thought they could get away with it.

  3. You beat me to it. Nothing more to say. It makes the Dan Rather forged letter look innocent by comparison. At least Rather can say he didn’t know it was a forgery. NBC has no excuse and STILL rejects responsibility for malice.

  4. I was also in awe after the Olympic Park bombing in 1996. I couldn’t believe how fast NBC and Brokaw jumped. After that I never trusted Brokaw(or NBC) again and that was before Jewell was exonorated. Trump’s show has made them look even worse. It is said Jewell died of natural causes but I can’t help to wonder if his death put undue stress on him to the point where the diseases he had increasingly manifested. Jewell made no mistake. That would be difficult to live with. But George made a mistake that I bet he is already putting alot of guilt on himself. He screwed up. The amount of training he had and the law is responsible in this case. He had a momentary lapse of judgement that is going to cost him for the rest of his life wheter he is charged or not. For that…. I feel for him.

  5. It is said Jewell died of natural causes but I can’t help to wonder if his death put undue stress on him to the point where the diseases he had increasingly manifested.

    I meant that the incident put undue stress on Jewell.

  6. Jack, you’re kinda late to the lynching here, son. Note how almost every major media story on the awful shooting has a photo of the victim…as an 11 year old boy. Typically, that image is paired with a (several year old) mugshot of Zimmerman in an orange jumpsuit. It’s wonderful agitprop, setting up the unspoken story of this wee, innocent schoolboy STALKED AND KILLED BY HUGE HULKING MAN. Even when the Hollywood Reporter did a story on the “editing mistake” by NBC, they featured the ubiquitous middleschool portrait of Trayvon Martin. (See the cover of the current issue of People Magazine for a fine example of this bias)

    How can the buffoons in the media not notice this? If one were to do a story on say, the trial of 4 black thugs who kidnapped/tortured/raped/killed two white co-ed, and our cover showed the defendants in poses of Gang-Banger Glory while the victims were pictured in their confirmation garb, do you not think the Usual Gang of Idiots (Sharpton and Jackson duking it out for role of Prime Idiot) would be all over the compliant airwaves bleating about the Racist Rush to Judgement?

    I don’t know if we could call the editing error a part of the plot. These people are necessarily plotting to portray a “white” hispanic as racist, THEY JUST KNOW IT IS SO.

    And they didn’t even think about it, because they also knew it was what Zimmerman was thinking. They heard/saw what they expected to see.

    • How do you figure I’m “late,” DAD? NBC issued it’s apology yesterday, and the post was about that: I could hardly argue it was covering up before it covered, could I? Let’s see…my first of the previous TEN posts and updates on the Trayvon Train Wreck occurred two weeks ago, on March 23, after President Obama fanned the flames with his “looks like my son” comment. All the other posts responded to developments that occurred within 24 hours. In between, I’ve logged about 40 comments on the topic.

      So again..how do you conclude that I’m “late’…now or ever on this topic? In fact, much of the most prominent online commentary followed me, and duplicated what I wrote after I wrote it…not that they had any idea what I wrote, but still…I beat them to it.

      I was not and am not “late.” DAD.

  7. The whole thing has turned into a media circus. This was a terrible tragedy and it is appalling that everyone seems to be enjoying it so much.

  8. Pingback: NBC News fakes transcript of 911 tape to make Zimmerman appear racist. Its explanation? Mistakes were made « Ethics Bob

  9. My goodness Jack, conspiracies everywhere. He’s what I think happen. The edit saved time within the piece and was mindlessly done by a producer and editor. I worked on TV a long time and have not seen the kind of conspiracy you cite.

    • I think you are overly trusting at this point, Ron. How could that be, when the clip was being specifically used to show racial bias? I suppose one can choose incredibly irresponsible, reckless incompetence, editing a tape to suggest racist motivs in the teeth of an explosive race controversy—were they really this unprofessional when you were in TV? Nobody questioned that Breitbart’s misleading edit of Sherrod was international, and he just cut out the end…this was the middle! NBC also went out its way to suggest that Zimmerman said “Fucking COON” when it now appears he was saying “it’s fucking COLD”…which it was. Combine all that with MSNBC’s anti-Zimmerman stance from the beginning, and Sharpton’s role…wow.

      You are trusting.

  10. The latest update is that a couple of NBC workers have leaked the story that the producer has been fired.

    Interesting points:
    1. The official spokesperson has no comment.
    2. The producer has not been named.
    3. “The people with direct knowledge of the firing characterized the misleading edit as a mistake, not a purposeful act.” (No, really, I believe them. My eyebrows are naturally like that.)

    So they may or may not have fired an anonymous producer for making a single honest mistake. I feel better already.

    NYT story here

  11. Go ahead…tell me that this isn’t symptomatic of the lack of ethics and fairness in today’s journalism. Tell me that what NBC did couldn’t just as plausibly have been done by any of the networks. Tell me that NBC’s brethren aren’t going to let the network get away with its vague, protective, lawyer-drafted cover-up. Tell me that the American journalistic establishment doesn’t routinely slant and manipulate its news to appeal to the biases of its imagined audience and the political views of its reporters and editors.

    Arthur Kirkland will tell you

    An armed vigilante pursues and kills an innocent teenager along an American street, yet this blog focuses for the second time on the botched editing of an associated news report. A comment expresses greater concern about the journalistic enterprise that fired an employee for a mistake than about the armed amateur who fired a fatal bullet into someone for carrying Skittles while black.

    The editing was a mistake (although evidence unknown to the editor at the relevant time indicates there was more truth to the edited message than some conservatives are prepared to acknowledge). Gun fetishists, by defending the shooter and the law that continues to enable the killer to avoid accountability for his conduct, are exhibiting an enormous blind spot, political and moral.

    Liberals and libertarians will benefit from conservatives’ errors in this episode. So keep up the good work, conservatives!

    • Arthur is, in a word, nuts, and in two, vile and nuts. “An armed vigilante pursues and kills an innocent teenager along an American street” is a false and misleading characterization presuming intent where no evidence exists. “the armed amateur who fired a fatal bullet into someone for carrying Skittles while black” is outrageous dishonesty, as there is no evidence that race was a motivating factor, nobody has claimed that Zimmerman was anti-Skittles, and again, the characterization is false.

      I don’t even know what (although evidence unknown to the editor at the relevant time indicates there was more truth to the edited message than some conservatives are prepared to acknowledge) is supposed to mean: presumably this is Ratherism.
      To cite the law isn’t to “defend” it. It’s the law. We decide guilt based on the law.

      There should be nothing “conservative” about insisting on fairness and opposing mob justice.

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