Report: Correspondent at NBC Affiliate Created Fake Zimmerman Recording

Despite NBC's refusal to engage in any transparency regarding its internal investigation into the airing of two fake audio recordings of George Zimmerman, information about how they made it onto the air is continuing to leak out.

According to a Southern Florida television news blog, the creator of at least one of the false audio clips was a correspondent with NBC's Miami affiliate WTVJ named Jeff Burnside. According to SFLTV, Burnside was the person responsible for editing Zimmerman's call to 9-1-1 which made him appear to be racially motivated in his pursuit of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. That manufactured audio was then taken by NBC News and run on the air:

You won’t hear it anywhere else but here – insiders have told us WTVJ reporter Jeff Burnside was fired last Friday for allegedly editing the Trayvon Martin 911 tape, the same tape NBC aired on ‘Today’ in early April. Allegedly, his firing wasn’t announced internally and so far there is no information whether NBC made a conclusion if the edit was misleading on purpose or if it was an oversight. [...]

NBC launched an internal investigation immediately after the incident, and I’m told several people other than Burnside were questioned, at WTVJ and NBC news, including a WTVJ editor or a news photographer who may have worked on the report. Burnside was suspended while the investigation was ongoing but NBC decided he was the producer and fired him last Friday. An NBC network producer who we’re told only took the edited tape from WTVJ, without checking it (I’m told it’s not unusual since it comes from an affiliate) and could not have known about the edit was also fired in this incident.

The recording in question is the one which makes Zimmerman appear to say "This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black," however there is a second recording which NBC also aired which clipped out vital context and made Zimmerman appear to say "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." (See my previous post about this second recording for more details on it.)

SFLTV's sources did not mentioned who created the second false audio clip.

While we (potentially) may now know the name of the person who made the first recording, we do not know who created the second false clip or the name of the NBC producer who was fired by the network.

Update 2012-04-26 9:09. According to the journalism news site Poynter.org, Burnside did not create any of the altered clips which ran on NBC's television programs. Instead, he created a clip of his own that aired on the WTVJ programs. Poynter has spoken with Burnside and confirmed that he has indeed been fired.

Unlike NBC News, WTVJ has apologized on the air for running a false audio clip. As of this writing, the name of the NBC producer(s) who created the fake clips run on that network's shows is still unknown.

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