NBC Prolongs Its Zimmerman Disgrace, Refuses to Release Name of Producer

As public awareness and outrage grows over NBC's deceptive editing of the 9-1-1 call made by George Zimmerman during the night he encountered Trayvon Martin, the television network has continued to stonewall and spin instead of being forthright and honest.

According to the Reuters news service, NBC continues to insist that the producer who edited the audio of the Zimmerman did not do so intentionally. Citing what it said were sources within the network, the wire service stated that NBC believed the misleading edit to be "a very bad mistake, but not deliberate."


At the same time, however, Reuters revealed that the producer is someone who is "seasoned," presumably meaning he/she has a great deal of experience editing and putting together news reports.

It's hard to take both of these statements together seriously. You don't need any journalism experience to realize that cutting out critical seconds from a recording to create a false clip which makes someone appear to be a racist (instead of simply responding to a question from someone else) is unethical and misleading.

Certainly someone who is a "seasoned" producer wouldn't make such an outrageous mistake. Or has NBC made a habit of keeping dangerously incompetent employees on the payroll?

And yet that is exactly what NBC is demanding that you believe, simply because it says so. As of this writing, the network has provided exactly zero evidence for this proposition. It won't even release the name of the producer who edited the clip so that the public and other media organizations can investigate the background of the producer to see if that explanation holds true.

[Click here to contact NBC's parent company to tell them to tell the truth about their false editing of the Zimmerman 9-1-1 audio.]

This entire incident is starting to seem increasingly similar to the CBS "Memogate" scandal which led to the ouster of that network's star anchor Dan Rather and his producer Mary Mapes. In both cases, we were told by stone-faced television network executives that the producers behind controversial (and false) segments were top-notch and that their integrity shouldn't be questioned.

Leaving aside the obvious and well-known leftist tilt of Rather, Mary Mapes was anything but an unbiased, non-ideological journalist. Quite the contrary. She was a woman who had decades worth of experience trying to shove her liberal beliefs into the news. But we never would have known this had her name been dishonestly and cowardly withheld from the public.

NBC News needs to step forward and reveal the name of the producer who edited the call and explain exactly how a veteran television professional could unintentionally edit down a clip to make someone appear to be a racist. Otherwise, most people will believe the more reasonable explanation: it was deliberate.

In either scenario, the producer who edited this segment deserves to be fired. The end result is that NBC broadcast a slanderous clip. Since Zimmerman was not a public figure at the time the clip aired, his lawyers will have no trouble making mincemeat of the network for falsely impugning him to millions of people.

That certainly what NBC feared in the late 1990s in the case of Richard Jewell, a man falsely maligned by many media organizations as being responsible for a domestic terrorism attack during the 1996 Olympics. NBC was so afraid of being embarrassed and losing out on millions that it paid Jewell $500,000 not to sue. Compared to what happened in this case, what then-NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said was full of hedging:

"The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case."

Brokaw at least had the good sense to say "probably" and talk about "holes in the case." George Zimmerman received no such courtesy from NBC. Instead, he was simply characterized as a racist vigilante.

While it has since retracted the false segment, NBC hasn't even bothered to apologize in its television programming. Instead, as NewsBusters publisher Brent Bozell noted last night during an interview with Fox News's Sean Hannity, all it's done so far is put out a press release apologizing for the "error."

It's also worth noting that MSNBC.com, a news site which is owned by Microsoft and NBC but which features content from NBC News, ran a text version of the deceptively edited call as well. After being called out for inaccuracy by conservative bloggers, the site changed the story to provide the full context of Zimmerman's words. Instead of informing readers that a significant change had been made to its story, the website simply made the correction. It was only after MSNBC.com's violation of journalistic principle was pointed out by NewsBusters that the site bothered to tell readers of the change.

Step after step, NBC News has acted disgracefully regarding its misleading editing of the Zimmerman 9-1-1 call. It's long past time for the network to show some honesty and integrity and come completely clean about what happened. The people who created this disgrace need to be fired, no matter what their motivations were.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013