NBC News President: Network Should 'Probably' Apologize On-Air for Repeatedly Running Fake Zimmerman Clip

It's been several weeks since NBC disgraced itself by repeatedly airing doctored audio of George Zimmerman talking to a 9-1-1 dispatcher but the network has yet to apologize on the air, hoping instead that its paltry efforts of firing a lone producer and conducting an investigation into the matter but not releasing a report to the public would be sufficient.

Incredibly, it was a New York Times columnist, David Carr, who decided to confront the network on how that just isn't enough. NBC News president Steve Capus admitted his efforts have been insufficient but tried to spin away why his network hasn't bothered to tell viewers about its propagation of fraudulent journalism.


Carr hit the nail on the head about how television news, in this case, NBC almost never corrects previous on-air mistakes during air time:

What is it with television news and corrections? When the rest of the journalism world gets something wrong, they generally correct themselves. But network news acts as if an on-air admission of error might cause a meteor to land on the noggin of one of its precious talking heads. NBC used all of the powers at its disposal to amend the mistake, except the high-visibility airtime where the bad clip ran in the first place. [...]

Clearly, broadcast news time is precious and it would be impractical to correct every small error. But this was no misdemeanor. This was a deeply misleading compression in editing about an event that has taken on national significance.

Somewhere in the four expansive hours of “Today” — perhaps between the segment about a loud peacock that was bothering neighbors and the preview of Eva Longoria’s show about “hunky bachelors” — somebody could have looked into the camera and set the story straight.

With that correct attitude in mind, Carr approached Capus to ask why nothing had been done on the air. Capus acknowledged that he was "probably right" but didn't seem too enthused about sparing a few seconds to help correct the record, especially for those viewers who aren't following the media industry or political blogs, i.e. the vast majority of "Today" watchers.

“The reality is that we didn’t try to hide from it,” the oleagenous NBC president is quoted as saying. “We did an awful lot of work after it happened. We did an exhaustive investigation, I did interviews with a lot of publications to get the message out, but we probably should have done it on our own air.”

Supposedly, according to Capus, the peacock network was so busy trying to get to the bottom of things it never bothered to tell viewers. In all likelihood, that process was too "self-reflective," Capus told Carr.

If Capus really believes that, why not take the time tomorrow to get "Today" and "NBC Nightly News" to apologize to its viewers to tell the truth about the disgraceful edit? How about releasing that report about how a fraudulently edited audio segment got aired repeatedly on television?

Yes, that's right. NBC didn't air fake audio of George Zimmerman just once on the air. It did so on five separate occasions.

While most of the attention has been given to the "Today" show airing the spliced clip on March 20th, that wasn't the only day that NBC aired misleading audio of Zimmerman's conversation. There were five separate instances—two using the formulation "this guy looks like he's up to no good. [...] he looks black” and three juxtaposing "up to no good" with Zimmerman's "he's a black male" comment from later in the conversation. The instances are below (thanks to NB's Rich Noyes for tabulating them):

NBC Nightly News, 3/19 (Pete Williams reporting):

Clip of GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. He's got his hand in his waistband, and he's a black male.

NBC Today, 3/20; 7am and again at 9am
Both reported by Lilia Luciano

Clip of GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. He's got his hand in his waistband, and he's a black male.

(The full transcript shows several exchanges between “...on drugs or something” and "He’s got his hand..." This comes at a point in the conversation after the “He looks black” statement that was made in response to the 9-1-1 dispatcher. On screen, these were shown as two separate text boxes, but no indication that there was material cut out.)
 
NBC Today, 3/22 (Lilia Luciano reporting):

ZIMMERMAN: “This guy looks like he's up to no good... He looks black.”

NBC Today, 3/27 (Ron Allen reporting):

ZIMMERMAN: “This guy looks like he's up to no good... He looks black.”

(The on-screen graphic in both instances shows ellipses after “no good,” but the audio runs continuously and omits the fact that Zimmerman was asked to describe the person he was following.)

Given that there are two separate clips of Zimmerman's voice that were created and run on two separate shows, how can we be assured that NBC has taken sufficient steps to punish anyone involved in perpetuating the false racist narrative? Because there hasn't been much of a focus on the "NBC Nightly News," how do we know that it wasn't an additional producer who made the phoney edit on that show?

Unfortunately there is no way of knowing and since George Zimmerman is still trying to fend off prosecutors, he's not likely to be able to launch a lawsuit against NBC for sliming him as a racist. Capus needs to do the right thing and come fully clean on what happened. As the boss, he can make things right. But will he choose to without governmental pressure? It will come, why wait until then?

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