Contrary to CNN's First Assumption, Prosecutors Say Zimmerman Didn't Use Racial Slur

Last week, CNN had to walk back its assumption that George Zimmerman uttered a racial slur in his 9-1-1 call, and now an affidavit from the prosecution in the case says no racist words were voiced.

CNN first suggested on March 21, according to its "sophisticated" audio editing, that Robert Zimmerman said "f***ing coons" on his 9-1-1 call. But the network had to throw water on that assumption once they re-assessed the audio clip, changing Zimmerman's words from "coons" to "cold."

Then CNN cited another expert who thought Zimmerman said "punks." And the prosecutors charging Zimmerman with second degree murder state that he uttered the words "f***ing punks" on the 9-1-1 call, not a racial slur as CNN's Gary Tuchman, Sunny Hostin, and Jeffrey Toobin first thought.

On March 21, reporter Gary Tuchman first played up CNN's editing ability. "This is one of the most sophisticated audio edit suites in the broadcast news business," he said of room 31 at CNN's Atlanta center. Tuchman played an audio clip from Zimmerman's 9-1-1 call on repeat.

Tuchman seemed to think Zimmerman dropped the racial slur "coons," saying "It sounds like this allegation could be accurate" and adding that "It certainly sounds like that word to me but you just can't be sure."

Legal analysts Sunny Hostin and Jeffrey Toobin both voiced their opinion on March 22 that Zimmerman used racist language.

"But now that I hear this – I think, slur now, sort of isolate it, you take all of that together, including his actions – that I think would be a pretty strong case for the Justice Department," said Hostin.

"I hear C-O-O-N-S. That's what I hear," said senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin on March 21. Toobin later retracted that assumption on April 4. "This is also a good example of why it's important to take your time. I remember when Gary Tuchman did his first report on it and I sat here with Anderson and I thought I heard C-O-O-N. But this certainly sounds like cold," he said of the audio.

And on that April 4 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, the verdict was changed from "coons" to "cold."

"From listening in this room, and this is state-of-the-art room, it doesn't sound like that slur anymore," Tuchman admitted while sitting with senior audio engineer Brian Stone. "It sounds like – and we wanted to leave it up to the viewer – but it sounds like we're hearing the swear word at first and then the word cold. And the reason some say that would be relevant is because it was unseasonably cold in Florida that night and raining."

On April 5, a different assumption was put forward. Host Wolf Blitzer cited Tom Owen of Owen Forensic Services as thinking Zimmerman said "punks." Ultimately, it was this word that the affidavit put forward as what Zimmerman said.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014