NY Times uses same misleading edit of Zimmerman's 911 call that got two NBC journalists fired

Over the weekend the NY Times published an opinion video about the 10th anniversary of Travon Martin’s death. The video features interviews with Henry Louis Gates, Al Sharpton and Barack Obama. It starts off on a controversial note with Gates arguing that the modern Civil Rights movement really started after the “murder” of Martin. There was of course a trial of George Zimmerman for murder back in 2013 and he was acquitted on grounds of self defense. In any case, the video quickly shifts into telling the story of the shooting starting with the 911 call which Zimmerman placed that night. Here’s a transcript of the audio as presented by the Times: [emphasis added]


Dispatcher: Sanford Police Department, this line is being recorded. This is Sean.

Zimmerman: Hey, we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood and there’s a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. He looks black.

Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is. These assholes, they always get away. Shit, he’s running.

Dispatcher: Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

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

This has been edited in a way that is intentionally misleading. The Times has removed a question the dispatcher asked which prompted his statement about Martin’s race. Here’s the actual call:

The actual transcript of the relevant portion of the call reads:

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.

Back in 2012, NBC‘s Today show broadcast a version of the 911 call with this same edit. The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple pointe out at the time that NBC had promised an internal investigation:


NBC told this blog today that it would investigate its handling of a piece on the “Today” show that ham-handedly abridged the conversation between George Zimmerman and a dispatcher in the moments before the death of Trayvon Martin. A statement from NBC:

“We have launched an internal investigation into the editorial process surrounding this particular story.”…

The difference between what “Today” put on its air and the actual tape? Complete: In the “Today” version, Zimmerman volunteered that this person “looks black,” a sequence of events that would more readily paint Zimmerman as a racial profiler. In reality’s version, Zimmerman simply answered a question about the race of the person whom he was reporting to the police. Nothing prejudicial at all in responding to such an inquiry.

A few days later, NBC News fired a producer responsible for the edit. This story about the firing was written by Brian Stelter and appeared in the NY Times:

NBC News has fired a producer who was involved in the production of a misleading segment about the Trayvon Martin case in Florida…

The action came in the wake of an internal investigation by NBC News into the production of the segment, which strung together audio clips in such a way that made George Zimmerman’s shooting of Mr. Martin sound racially motivated. Ever since the Feb. 26 shooting, there has been a continuing debate about whether race was a factor in the incident.

The segment in question was shown on the “Today” show on March 27. It included audio of Mr. Zimmerman saying, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”…

The people with direct knowledge of the firing characterized the misleading edit as a mistake, not a purposeful act.


A few weeks later, NBC also fired a Miami based reporter who made a similar edit to the call.

As in the case of the Today show, an NBC News spokeswoman refused to name the Miami NBC6 reporter who was fired, but the Miami Herald identified him as Jeff Burnside, an environmental journalist who has won several regional Emmy awards.

So that’s at least two people who were fired over what NBC claimed was just a mistake. Zimmerman eventually sued NBC News over this. Yet here we are nearly 10 years later and the NY Times is pushing the same misleading edit. Is this also just a mistake, like the Times editorial claiming Sarah Palin’s map incited the Tucson shooting? Is there no one at the Times who was aware this particular edit had a history?

The edit appear about a minute in to the clip below and is quickly followed by another 911 call in which a neighbor called police because someone was yelling for help. Those screams for help became a major element of the trial as Martin’s mother claimed she heard Trayvon while both of Zimmerman’s parents and several other friends said it was Zimmerman. The Times doesn’t say who was yelling but in the context of this clip I wonder if most viewers are aware it was at least arguably not Martin but Zimmerman yelling for help prior to the fatal shot.


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