NBC Apologizes For Airing Deceptively Edited George Zimmerman 911 Tape

NBC News has issued an apology of sorts for the deceptively edited 911 recording it played on the air last week:

NBC News said Tuesday it has concluded an investigation into its repeated broadcast of an edited version of a 911 call placed by George Zimmerman that made it appear he was racially profiling Trayvon Martin the night he killed him.

NBC’s Today broadcast the 911 call last week, but its edited version made it appear that Zimmerman blurted out that Martin looked suspicious to him because he was black. The full audio from the phone call, though, reveals that Zimmerman didn’t mention Martin’s race until the 911 operator asked him, “Is he white, black or Hispanic?”

MSNBC has run similar segments with the edited version of the call.

“During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret,” NBC News said in a statement e-mailed to The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday. “We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers.”

When asked if anyone at Today had lost their job or had been reassigned as a result of the investigation, an NBC spokeswoman said: “We will not be commenting on our course of action.”

Well I suppose it’s better than nothing. But not by much.

FILED UNDER: Media, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Jay says:

    As I said on Twitter, NBC saying the bogus edit was an “error” is like saying Titanic sinking was a “minor boating accident.”

  2. SKI says:

    Weak, very weak by NBC.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Epic fail.

    And the credibility of the mainstream media goes down by another notch.

  4. Rob in CT says:

    Yeah, that is weak. An error was made.

    Much better would be:

    Our investigation revealed that an employee (or employees) edited the tape in a manner that was misleading. We have terminated that/those employees, and clearly informed our remaining staff that such practices are not acceptable. We apologize to Mr. Zimmerman and to our viewers.

    But then I’m not in corporate legal…

  5. evilcyber says:

    So, “we apologize for getting caught and called out on it”.

  6. @Rob in CT:

    In light of what happened to the Atlanta Journal Constitution after the Richard Jewell mess I am sure corporate legal didn’t want a statement that could be construed as evidence of an admission of malicious intent.

  7. Rob in CT says:

    Yeah, I think a lot of the reason you see a lot of non-apology apologies (not the personal ones like, say, I apologize for calling the honorable representative so and so a goat f*cker, but rather “apologies” like these) is because of legal worries. We have an environment in which organizations are terrified of admitting fault, and there is reasonable justification for that terror. I have no idea how to improve the situation.

    That’s not to defend NBC. They deserved the condemnation they got and they deserve scorn for their crappy “apology.” But how often have we seen this sort of thing? It’s pervasive. We tend to notice when somebody *really* apologizes, precisely because it’s gone out of style.

  8. Compare NBC’s reaction to this to The American Life’s reaction to the Mike Daisey scandal, and what the difference says how seriously each organization takes it’s journalism.

  9. wr says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Yeah. Compare it to how Fox News apologizes when they “make a mistake” and see what that difference looks like.

    I mean, just as soon as Fox first admits they were wrong about anything.

  10. @wr:

    So what’s your point, crappy journalism is okay as long as you can find someone even crappier?

  11. An Interested Party says:

    Compare NBC’s reaction to this to The American Life’s reaction to the Mike Daisey scandal, and what the difference says how seriously each organization takes it’s journalism.

    Indeed…also compare who owns NBC and what the primary purpose of the company is compared to NPR…

  12. Jenos Idanian says:

    Note that wr doesn’t bother to cite a specific example of Fox News doing something at least as egregious… such as giving someone the wrong political affiliation or something.

    I read the article and was waiting for someone to come up with the “but Fox!” line. Shoulda known good ol’ wr wouldn’t let us down.

  13. Herb says:

    @Jay: Cute, but no…it’s nothing like that.

    @Jeremy: “the credibility of the mainstream media” Well…..it’s NBC, one small part of the mainstream media. How can NBC’s goof possibly reflect on the entire mainstream media?

    @Stormy Dragon: A better comparison would be to the Sherrod tapes from Breitbart, as we’re talking selective editing as opposed to making stuff up out of whole cloth.

    I don’t mean to defend NBC for this. They should be embarrassed. But all NBC needed to do was indicate they edited the tape and no one would have any complaints. They could have used an ellipsis in the transcript, a beep in the audio. Something. They didn’t, so I guess we’ll just have to suffer the ax-grinders for now.

  14. Drew says:

    I’m really, really sorry, honey, that I screwed the hot neighbor wife. But she was just so….. Anyway, I won’t do it again. Will you forgive me?

  15. Jeremy says:

    @Herb:

    “Goof?” You call what they did a “goof?” Last time I checked, deliberate stupidity did not a “goof” make.

    Thing is, NBC is emblematic of the whole industry. It’s one of the big three, next to CBS and ABC (and I suppose Fox and CNN too.) What they’re doing is a sign of how the mainstream media is slipping away. They’re so desperate to bump up ratings they’ll do just about anything. The problem is, they don’t recognize that their attempts to bump up ratings actually makes their condition worse, as people don’t trust them to report the truth, and they suffer. Then there are lower ratings, they try the same things…it’s a vicious cycle, and why I forsee them going to be gone within a generation.

    You’re right, if they noted that the tape was edited, there probably wouldn’t have been that big of a fuss, since transparency is what really counts in journalism, though I would argue that would also be unethical. But they outright lied and mislead the public with what they did. They deserve to get all the crud they get.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    They’re so desperate to bump up ratings they’ll do just about anything.

    What do you expect when large corporations own these networks…

  17. Herb says:

    @Jeremy:

    “You call what they did a “goof?” Last time I checked, deliberate stupidity did not a “goof” make.”

    Well, I guess I’m just allowing room for other motives besides “deliberate stupidity.” Every time this tape is excerpted (by anyone) it’s being edited. What you should be doing is questioning their editing choices (that’s right, not their “lies”), but you seem too busy pounding nails in a coffin of your own construction.

  18. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Herb: There’s an old saying: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

    This can’t be adequately explained by stupidity. The editing is too damned precise, and the original was too available. The editing removes exactly enough material to leave the exact impression that the “hang Zimmerman” side is pushing so hard.

    And also, this is NBC. They are, in theory, the professionals, the experts, the masters. They simply aren’t allowed to make amateur mistakes; they must be held to a higher standard.

    And this pathetic non-apology is utterly meaningless.

  19. wr says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Nope. NBC screwed up, admitted it, and apologized. And yet the right wing blatherheads are screaming that someone — they don’t care who, just anyone — must be fired right away. Meanwhile, at the station they worship, the CEOs of the company turn out to be involved in a massive scheme to hack cell phones and corrupt an entire police force — and they’re fine with that.

    NBC was wrong here — but I don’t need the sanctimonious crap from people who exist to lick Rupert Murdoch’s shoes.

  20. Jenos Idanian says:

    @wr: Ain’t you so generous to forgive and forget on behalf of everyone? No thanks.

    1) “NBC screwed up.” Yup. But not in the “oops, we made a mistake” sense. No, this was a “oops, we got caught” screwup.

    2) NBC “admitted it.” Acknowledging when you’ve been caught is not some great moral act. It’s the absolute bare minimum. Remember Anthony Wiener’s denials and accusations of being “hacked” that so many Breitbart-haters embraced?

    3) NBC “apologized.” Yeah, they apologized to their viewers. Did they apologize to George Zimmerman, the subject of their lie? Or is he considered one of their “viewers?”

    NBC’s response so far is best summed up as this: “Oops, we got caught lying, and lying badly. Let’s announce that we’ve ‘investigated’ it, figured out what happened, and say we’ve taken steps to keep it from happening again. And if anyone presses for details, we’ll just blow them off and hope our sycophants and useful idiots will cover for us.”

    Cue wr to step up and say “nothing to see here, move along…”

    Not. So. Fast.

  21. Herb says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    “The editing is too damned precise, and the original was too available. “

    Score! “The original was too available.” And yet there are still some who believe that NBC edited the tape in order to conceal what was on the original tape, which is available nearly everywhere.

    They would prefer to believe that NBC is either stupid enough to think that would work or malicious enough to try it, and yet…like any good conspiracy theory….it’s ignoring the most obvious explanation: It was edited for time and effect.

    As you point out, the effect is to highlight some of the things George ZImmerman said on the tape. They don’t necessarily reflect well on Zimmerman, which I say….too bad. George Zimmerman’s actions don’t reflect well on Zimmerman. We just don’t live in a world where you can kill unarmed kids and escape criticism. Sorry.

    And I know, I know…there’s a whole “the media is the problem” meme in this case, but it’s bullschniggle. There are a lot of problems with the media. Edited 911 tapes are not one of them.

  22. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Herb: They would prefer to believe that NBC is either stupid enough to think that would work or malicious enough to try it, and yet…like any good conspiracy theory….it’s ignoring the most obvious explanation: It was edited for time and effect.

    This is the same network that rigged model rocket motors to trucks to “demonstrate” how dangerous GM pickups were, remember? Sometimes supreme arrogance leads to mind-bogglingly stupid acts.