NBC News President Insists Zimmerman Edit 'Not a Deliberate Act to Misrepresent'

Following a series of anonymous leaks, NBC has released its first on-the-record statements regarding the internal investigation into its misleading audio clip of George Zimmerman's 9-1-1 call.

According to NBC, the controversial clip, which appeared during its "Today" morning news show, was edited deliberately by the producer to fit within time constraints and not for some other reason. Speaking to Reuters, NBC News president Steve Capus asserted that the individual, who has been fired but whose name has not been disclosed, had made "a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call."

The misleading cut removed crucial seconds of Zimmerman's call during which the 9-1-1 operator inquired about the race of the man he was pursuing. In response to the question, Zimmerman stated that he believed the individual was of African extraction. The initial question was removed by NBC News while Zimmerman's answer was included.

To listen to the edited clip and the original, see video below from NewsBusters publisher Brent Bozell who first broke the story on the March 29 edition of Fox News's "Hannity" program.

An excerpt from the Reuters story which gives more details into NBC's internal investigation and also credits NewsBusters and Breitbart.com as being instrumental in exposing the network's selective editing:

NBC News's decision to air an edited call from George Zimmerman to police in the moments before he shot Trayvon Martin was "a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call," according the president of network's news division. [...]

Under growing public pressure to explain the incident, NBC News President Steve Capus provided Reuters with the fullest explanation to date of how the edited call made it on air and what the network is doing to prevent such a consequential error from happening again.

Capus confirmed a previous Reuters report that an internal network investigation had determined that a producer made the editing error, and that the network's editorial controls - including senior broadcast producer oversight, script editors and often legal and standards department reviews of sensitive material to be broadcast - simply missed the selective editing of the phone call.

He said the producer has been fired and "several people" involved were disciplined, though he declined to specify the nature of the disciplinary actions, saying they were internal personnel matters.

Sources at the network told Reuters on Thursday that NBC News executives did not know the emergency call was misleadingly edited until news reports surfaced days later on blogs including newsbusters.org and Breitbart.com. [...]

As part of the investigation, the producer who edited the call was questioned extensively about motivation, and it was determined that the person had cut the video clip down to meet a maximum time requirement for the length of the segment - a common pressure in morning television - and inadvertently edited the call in a way that proved misleading.

NBC News has apologized for the incident, saying in a statement to Reuters earlier this week that there was "an editing error in the production process," but insisting the results of the internal investigation would not be announced publicly.

Capus said that the network "takes its responsibility seriously" and has undertaken rigorous efforts to formalize the editorial safeguards in place at the network.

In a separate incident showing media "synergy" at its worst, NBC's online news arm, MSNBC.com, perpetuated the same false edit in text form which was first exposed by Breitbart.com blogger Dan Riehl. After Riehl pointed out the misinformation, MSNBC.com corrected its story but did not inform readers of the article that a correction had been made until NewsBusters pointed this out March 30.

The repurposing of the misleading clip to an online story suggests the problem is more widespread than what Capus and what NBC have let on, however. What hasn't been revealed to the public is when the truncated call transcript was inserted into the MSNBC.com story which was dated March 21.

The public has also not been informed about the process by which the false Zimmerman transcript was inserted. Clearly there were no time constraints at work in the construction of the web version. Why then was the edited transcript used?

Unfortunately for NBC, despite its best attempts to delay releasing any sort of news until Easter Sunday, the story about this fiasco is going to go on and won't dissipate, due in part to the network's strategy of releasing as little information as possible.

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