NBC Today Ran 2 Differently Edited 911 Zimmerman Calls -- 3rd NBC Employee Fired, But No On-Air Correction or Apology

By Michael W. Chapman | May 4, 2012 | 5:54pm EDT

(Image courtesy MRC.org)

(CNSNews.com) – NBC’s Today show broadcast two differently edited and inaccurate versions of the 911 call between George Zimmerman and the police dispatcher in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, on two different days, both versions of which portrayed Zimmerman as potentially being racially motivated in his actions.

Three NBC employees have been fired over the incidents, so far, but the national network has not explained how the selective edits occurred and has not apologized on-air to viewers for the errors or apologized on-air to Zimmerman for inaccurately reporting what he said, all of which has led some media observers to question NBC’s credibility.

“I was appalled by what happened with NBC,” said Bob Zelnick, who had worked as an ABC News correspondent for 21 years, holds two Emmy Awards, and currently is a professor of journalism at Boston University. “But anytime networks get into racial issues, it’s a foregone conclusion that they’re not going to treat them with the same hard-headed objectivity as with other areas of news.”

“I think this was a case where bias clearly infiltrated the editorial process,” Zelnick told CNSNews.com. “It is not unusual. I think the tone of some of the other broadcasts, while not containing some of the factual errors [at NBC], reflected that institutional bias.”

L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center.

Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center (MRC), said in a May 3 press release, “Another head has rolled behind NBC’s iron curtain as the troubled, so-called ‘news’ network continues to drop the guillotine on those responsible for the deliberately misleading edits to Zimmerman’s 911 call. … This latest firing from NBC once again goes unexplained.”

“The truth has been withheld from NBC’s own viewers now for more than one month,” Bozell continued. “Do the network executives at NBC think that this is acceptable? What about the board and shareholders of Comcast? Is it acceptable for a news organization to consciously and constantly lie to its viewers?”

On May 2 it was reported that NBC Today correspondent Lilia Luciano had been fired by the network apparently sometime in mid-April because of her role in a news segment, broadcast on the Mar. 20 Today show, which aired one of the edited 911 calls.

While NBC News has not provided details to the public about that firing, in a May 4 e-mail to CNSNews.com, network spokeswoman Amy Lynn said, “Lilia Luciano is no longer with NBC News.”

Back on Feb. 26, community watchman George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. Martin was a 17-year-old black man and Zimmerman was a 28-year-old Hispanic man.

In the actual 911 telephone exchange between Zimmerman and a police dispatcher, part of the exchange occurred as follows,

Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”

Dispatcher: “Okay, and this guy, is he white, black or Hispanic?”

Zimmerman: “He looks black.”

The complete 911 call was released by the Sanford Police Department to the public on Mar. 16.

This Wednesday, April 11, 2012 booking photo of George Zimmerman was provided by the Sanford Police Department. (AP Photo/Sanford Police Department)

On Mar. 19, an NBC affiliate in Miramar, Fla., WTVJ, broadcast a story about the Zimmerman-Martin shooting. In that broadcast, as reported by Jeff Burnside, NBC ran an edited and inaccurate version of the 911 call that said the following:

Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. He looks black.”

Then, on Mar. 20, reporter Lilia Luciano led a segment that was broadcast nationally on NBC’s Today show, which reaches a little over 5 million viewers. In her report, a differently edited and also inaccurate version of the 911 call was broadcast.  It read as follows:

Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or on drugs or something. He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.”

Dispatcher: “Are you following him?”

Zimmerman: “Yeah.”

Dispatcher: “Okay, we don’t need you to do that.”

Than, on Mar. 27, NBC’s Today show ran another segment, led by reporter Ron Allen, with yet another edited and inaccurate version of the 911 call:

Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”

Dispatcher: “Did you see what he was wearing?”

Zimmerman: “Yeah. A dark hoodie.”

Trayvon Martin. (AP Photo)

While it seems that only one edit occurred with the WTVJ (NBC6 Miami)  version of the 911 call – the station later ran a correction and apology on-air – it is certain that at least two different versions were broadcast on the national NBC Today show.

An NBC spokesman told CNSNews.com on background that there were “two separate mistakes” in the editing of the 911 calls.

On Mar. 28, the conservative blog NewsBusters reported on the edited calls and, the next day, MRC President Brent Bozell discussed the issue on Fox’s Hannity program.  The story spread and, on Mar. 31, The Washington Post reported that NBC News had informed the newspaper that it would investigate the matter.

(Disclosure:  The MRC is the parent company of CNSNews.com.)

Then on Apr. 3, NBC News issued a press release that said, “During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret. We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers.”

Former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick. (Photo: courtesy of Boston University.)

NBC’s press release was sent to the media in general. It was not read on-air on the Today show, and there was no correction or apology for how its “error” had cast Zimmerman as potentially racially motivated in shooting Trayvon Martin.

“I definitely think they should apologize to the viewers on-air,” said Zelnick, who also holds two Gavel Awards and is the author of four books.

Ben Shapiro, a best-selling author and syndicated columnist, told CNSNews.com, “Of course, NBC should apologize, but such apologies do not suffice. This happened more than once and it was repeated. The impression left was that this was a racially motivated killing.”

“That coverage drove the entire debate surrounding Martin and Zimmerman, and drove it away from an evidence-based debate into a politically-charged one that lost sight of the fact that the Martin family and Zimmerman both deserved objective justice,” said Shaprio.  “[NBC News President] Steve Capus should resign. This was shameful, and the buck stops at the top.”

On Apr. 5, NBC News announced that an unnamed senior producer in Miami, Fla., had been fired because of the doctored 911 audioclips.  Then on Apr. 20 it was announced that Jeff Burnside at WTVJ/NBC6 had been fired as well. (The station had aired a correction and an on-air apology about the inaccurate 911 audio on its Apr. 18 evening news broadcasts, according to The Miami Herald.)

Author and syndicated columnist Ben Shapiro. (Photo courtesy: Thomas Nelson Publishers.)

Lilia Luciano was fired apparently around that same time, although NBC News has not said exactly when she was let go. Her last report for the network was on Mar. 31, according to Mediabistro.com.

“Many questions are left unanswered and NBC will be held accountable for its actions,” said Bozell. “Own up to your dishonesty, NBC – tell your audience the truth for once and for all.”

Bob Zelnick said of NBC’s actions, “My feeling is, at the very least, [the edited calls] represented sloppy work but more likely a predisposition to confirm racial motivation or certainly strong racial content to the incident.”

“I’m not surprised at all by what happened because, repeatedly, there’s an effort to portray racial prejudice on the part of the white participant” among many journalists, he said. “There are residual areas where I think the bias or predisposition of white journalists read prejudice into events continues.”

Although NBC News said on Apr. 3 that the doctored calls were “an error made in the production process,” NBC News President Steve Capus communicated with Reuters news service about the investigation. In an Apr. 8 story, Reuters noted that contact and reported, “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.”

However, the MRC noted that the cut in the 911 audio constituted something less than 2 seconds.

NBC News President Steve Capus. (Photo: NBC News)

“I believe that there is no way the tape was edited like that solely to save time,” Ben Shapiro told CNSNews.com.  “The editing was done with particularity and specificity. Even if it was edited to save time, the inescapable conclusion from that edit was that Zimmerman was a racist. And that's precisely what NBC meant to convey.”

As for whether the tapes were edited deliberately to make Zimmerman seem racially motivated, Shapiro said, “Absolutely. The tapes could have been edited dozens of ways to save time and not make it appear that Zimmerman was racist; they could have easily been edited to better reflect the facts. They weren't. And that was deliberate.”

Howard Kurtz, host of CNN’s Reliable Sources and a long-time media reporter said that what NBC did “was blatant distortion.”

Bozell said, “NBC’s actions vindicate the Media Research Center’s original point that NBC’s two-sentence (non)apology [on Apr. 3] was an insult, and that this is a network out of control.”

An inquiry by e-mail with four specific questions from CNSNews.com to Amy Lynn, NBC News Communicatiuons, and the office of Steve Capus were not answered before this story was posted.

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