On March 27, NBC’s The Today Show broadcasted an edited version of George Zimmerman’s 911 call from the day he fatally shot unarmed Sanford, Fla., teenager Trayvon Martin.
This is how Today aired it:
Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
And this is how the call really happened:
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.”
The incident is reminiscent of the 2010 Shirley Sherrod scandal, when the late conservative blogger and activist Andrew Breitbart edited video of the former Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture to make it appear as though she had delivered racist remarks at a March 2010 NAACP event.
Sherrod was unfairly and publicly humiliated by being forced to resign from her post by the Obama administration without checking the facts. As is customary, she was then judged in the public trial of the news media. The White House later apologized and offered a new position, but the damage to her reputation was already done.
In the George Zimmerman’s 911 call editing case, NBC did the right thing by apologizing to its viewers and firing the producer responsible for the misleading editing and airing of Zimmerman’s call. However, just as in the Sherrod case, the damage to viewers as well as the integrity of the Martin and Zimmerman families has already been done.
NBC’s “editing-gate” is troubling because it reveals that the trend of loosely manipulating the facts is not exclusive of new media outlets such as Mr. Breitbart’s collection of blogs. It now also extends to the traditional media.
The case also does a disservice to the ongoing investigation of the Trayvon Martin case by skewing public opinion and potentially undermining the final decision if it doesn’t adjust to the narrative created by this hyper-sensationalized news coverage. This is bad for Trayvon Martin’s family, and friends and supporters across the country and around the world, as their emotions are already shattered enough to also have to deal with the misleading media coverage of this national tragedy and its strange circumstances.