CNN Walks It Back: Oops, Zimmerman Didn't Say 'Coon,' He Said It Was 'Cold'!

NBC isn’t the only network slinking away from overcooking the case against George Zimmerman’s alleged racism. On the March 21 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, a CNN audio expert enhanced Zimmerman's 9-1-1 call and suggested he had used a racial slur, "f--ing coon," as he was following Trayvon Martin. Reporter Gary Tuchman asserted: "It certainly sounds like that word to me."

Two weeks later on the same show on April 4, CNN re-assessed the tape with another CNN expert, and now felt it suggests George Zimmerman was just chilly, muttering the words "f--ing cold" under his breath. Tuchman explained: "The reason some say that would be relevant is because it was unseasonably cold in Florida that night and raining." Oopsy.



On March 21, Tuchman played up how sophisticated CNN would be in (mis)identifying the racism on this phone call: “This is room 31 at CNN Center in Atlanta. This is one of the most sophisticated audio edit suites in the broadcast news business. And right here is Rick Sierra. He is our audio design specialist. He's one of the best audio experts in the business.”

The duo found it quite plausible (if not definitive) that the word “coon” was being used:

GARY TUCHMAN: That does sound a little clearer to me. It sounds like this allegation could be accurate. But I wouldn't swear to it in court. That's what it sounded like to me.

RICK SIERRA: Very difficult to really pinpoint what he is saying.

TUCHMAN: Rick, can we play just that second word where we think the second word is and hear? And hear, if the sound any different.

SIERRA: OK.

TUCHMAN: It certainly sounds like that word to me but you just can't be sure. That sounds even more like the word than using it with the f word before that.

SIERRA: That's correct.

Cooper found it “fascinating” and turned to legal expert Jeffrey Toobin to announce how important this finding could be: “It’s extremely, extremely significant because the federal government is not allowed to prosecute just your ordinary every day murder. Two people fighting on the street is not a federal crime. However, if one person shoots another based on racial hostility, racial animus, that does become a federal crime.”

It’s obvious that Eric Holder’s Department of Justice likes to investigate when the “nation of cowards” is tolerating racism.

Here’s how CNN walked away from that verdict on April 4. Tuchman’s new audio expert is senior audio engineer Brian Stone:

TUCHMAN: Now, it does sound less like that racial slur last time. I acknowledge the possibility it could have been that slur. From listening in this room, and this is state-of-the-art room, it doesn't sound like that slur anymore.

STONE: Right.

TUCHMAN: 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. So that is what some supporters of Zimmerman are saying, that that would make sense if he was saying the word cold.

Once again, Cooper turned to Toobin, who said he, too, had changed his mind: “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. The FBI has the best enhancement facilities in the world. Again, everybody wants this case to be wrapped up tomorrow. This just shows why it's important to say, let's get all the best evidence we can.”

That’s what many Americans felt on March 21, that it’s important not to rush to judgment. It’s too bad CNN displayed such eagerness. At least now, they’re considering they were wrong.

Oddly, on other CNN programs, they’re declaring the word could be “punks” instead of “cold.” With this kind of analysis, if Zimmerman were charged, it would be tough to talk a jury into reading Zimmerman’s mind. CNN can’t seem to do it.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis