Some reporters have been so determined to prove that George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin on February 26 was due to racism that they've been willing to go to virtually any length to find evidence that supports their claim, even against the recommendations of fellow journalists not wanting to rush beyond the evidence.
The case of CNN's rush to promote the idea that Zimmerman had uttered a racial slur during the call is perhaps the best example of this.
Ignoring the rest of the four-minute 9-11- call, Gary Tuchman first turned to Rick Sierra, whom the newsman described as “one of the best audio experts in the business,” on March 21.
However, even after the “enhancement” of the tape, Tuchman and Sierra said that while it sounded like Zimmerman said “fu--ing coon” as he followed Martin two minutes and 22 seconds into the conversation, “you just can't be sure” that was what he said.
Video of Tuchman's report is below:
Two weeks later, Tuchman turned to Brian Stone, another audio expert, who used “a higher-tech method” to further enhance the sound in the 911 call.
After several repetitions of the phrase, Tuchman and Stone agreed that the first word was indeed the expletive Zimmerman was accused of saying, but the second word “doesn't sound like that slur anymore.”
The investigation continued until April 5, when an article written by the “CNN Wire Staff” stated that even though several members of the network's editorial staff repeatedly reviewed the tape, they couldn't agree on whether Zimmerman had said coons.
That information led the blogger at the Ace of Spades Website to ask why the cable news network ran a defamatory report when members of its own staff "could reach no consensus on whether Zimmerman used a slur."
Hey CNN—that's not a good position to stake out for yourselves in a defamation lawsuit. If you ran this report, ginning up the “racial hatred” storyline while behind the scenes you doubted it, that is pretty much “malice” right there.
But in the same report, the news network turned to yet another audio expert:
Tom Owen of Owen Forensic Services, which is a company that specializes in audio enhancement and audio improvement, and he was able to isolate the interference, remove it, slow it down.
After playing the new version of the audio a few times, the report indicated that Zimmerman clearly used the word “punks” and not a racial slur.
Given the great murkiness around the allegation even from the beginning, CNN's airing of it is the exact sort of spectulation reporting that it routinely condemns in the blogosphere.
While CNN has at least admitted on the air that it wasn't likely Zimmerman used the word and has refrained subsequently from alleging this, the unfortunate reality is that damage has already been done to Zimmerman's reputation. Unless CNN makes a habit of correcting viewers who came across the false allegation, it's very likely that people not paying attention will have missed the retraction, especially since the original report on its site includes no disclamer that it does not believe the allegation.