The mistake was an astonishing one. This is how “Today” portrayed a key portion of the call:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.
And this is the full transcript of that portion of the call:
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.
The sheer breathtakingness of that elision has convinced some onlookers that NBC acted with malice in this instance — that it was out to portray Zimmerman as someone prone to racial profiling. The New York Post spoke for this group in a Thursday editorial arguing that the audio editing “constitutes pretty damning evidence of willful misconduct by NBC News.” NBC’s statement from Tuesday contends it was simply an error, and Reuters’s sources at the network say the same thing: “The sources described the producer’s actions as a very bad mistake, but not deliberate.”
What we know is that it couldn’t possibly look worse. The audio editing appeared to go out of its way to besmirch Zimmerman. It would have been easier for NBC to have simply let the actual, and less damning, version of the tape play for its viewers. Yet until I see or find more evidence, I am not going to follow the New York Post’s diagnosis of willful misconduct. Colossal errors take all forms, including ones that look like conspiracies.