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NBC’s Spin on 911 Tape Stretches Credibility

James Hirsen By Monday, 09 April 2012 11:38 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

In the era of spin in which our society is currently immersed, political figures, celebrities, high-profile individuals, and corporate executives on behalf of their companies, frequently attempt to alter public opinion and/or perception through use of borderline tactics, particularly when damage control is what is being sought.

NBC News recently found itself in the position of having to seek damage control and in so doing the network news division ended up making a dubious assertion to Reuters, which indicated that the precisely edited recording of a phone call from George Zimmerman to police prior to the shooting of Trayvon Martin was a mere “mistake.”

NBC acknowledges making a "mistake" in the way it edited George Zimmerman's 911 call.
(Getty Images)
The incident is reminiscent of the controversy that CBS faced back in 2004, which in some quarters is still referred to as “Rathergate.”

Dan Rather reported on “60 Minutes Wednesday” that memos critical of then-President George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard service record had been discovered. However, the authenticity of the documents was called into question because they possessed modern typographic conventions that were unavailable on military typewriters of the 1970s.

Both Rather and CBS initially insisted that the documents were legitimate, claiming that they had been authenticated by experts. CBS later retracted the story.

NBC appears to be using a comparable playbook with regard to the edit of the Zimmerman tape.

Since the story hit the national media, the thrust of the Martin shooting has revolved around the assumption that race had been a factor in the incident. Protests in various locations erupted seeking the shooter’s arrest.

The edited recording that aired on NBC’s “Today” show was directly related in terms of newsworthiness to the question of whether or not Zimmerman’s actions were racially motivated. The tape was, in essence, a critical piece of evidence in an already volatile situation.

NBC News President Steve Capus told Reuters that the edit had been the result of “a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call.”

The edit redacted just enough of the conversation to leave listeners with the impression that Zimmerman’s motivation for assuming Martin was “up to no good” was based on skin color.

The following is the edited recorded segment, which was aired on March 27 by NBC News:

Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he's up to no good . . . ”

Zimmerman: “He looks black.”

If the actual unedited recording shown below had been aired by NBC, it would have left listeners with a distinctly different impression.

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: “OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?”

Zimmerman: “He looks black.”

When a comparison of NBC’s edit and the actual recording is done, it simply stretches the bounds of credibility to expect people to believe that when a professional is editing a recorded conversation, he or she would not listen to the words on the recording prior to deleting sections of the audio, particularly the question that was posed by the 911 operator.

NBC News has offered a statement of apology for having made “an editing error in the production process” and has indicated that an internal investigation has been conducted.

However, the network is also indicating that it has no intention of releasing the results of the investigation to the public.

James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.

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Monday, 09 April 2012 11:38 AM
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