July 14, 2013

Last night’s not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial will enable the neighborhood-watch volunteer to resume his case against NBC News for the mis-editing of his widely distributed call to police. Back in December, Zimmerman sued NBC Universal Media for defamation over the botched editing, which depicted him as a hardened racial profiler.

George Zimmerman
George Zimmerman (R) talks to defense counsel Don West during his trial on Saturday. (EPA/JOE BURBANK / POOL)

Here’s how NBC News, in a March 27, 2012, broadcast of the “Today” show, abridged the tape of Zimmerman’s comments to a police dispatcher on the evening of Feb. 26, 2012:

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

The full tape went like this:

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.

NBC Universal Media responded to the Zimmerman complaint by noting that other media outlets played up the racial angle of Zimmerman’s deadly encounter with Trayvon Martin.

The company also noted the pivotal nature of the second-degree murder case: “[I]f Zimmerman is convicted, that fact alone will constitute substantial evidence that the destruction of his reputation is the result of his own criminal conduct, and not of the broadcasts at issue which, like countless other news reports disseminated by media entities throughout the country, reported on the underlying events.”

That formulation is now null.

According to Zimmerman attorney James Beasley, the case against NBC News was stayed pending the outcome of the criminal case. Now that’s out of the way, and Beasley is ready to proceed. “We’re going to start in earnest asap, we just have to get the stay lifted which is a ministerial act,” says Beasley, a Philadelphia lawyer, via e-mail.

When asked how the not-guilty verdict affects the civil case against NBC News, Beasley responded, “This verdict of not guilty is just that, and shows that at least this jury didn’t believe that George was a racist, profiling, or anything that the press accused George of being. That probably doesn’t get you that much but it’s simply time for us to start the case and hold accountable anyone who was irresponsible in their journalism.”

Read more about the George Zimmerman verdict:

Jennifer Rubin: Jurors see through the shabby case against Zimmerman

Erik Wemple: Don’t blame media for Zimmerman prosecution

Ruth Marcus: Zimmerman verdict shows the flaws of justice

Editorial: Zimmerman goes free, but tragedy remains

Jonathan Capehart: A crushing verdict for the Martin family

PHOTOS: Reaction to the Zimmerman verdict

 

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.