“There exists absolutely no clear and convincing evidence that defendants knew that the information published was false at the time it was published, or recklessly disregarded the truth or falsity of those statements,” wrote Judge Debra S. Nelson, according to the Sentinel’s account. She also pushed aside contentions in Zimmerman’s complaint that he suffered emotional distress as a result of the NBC News reports.
At issue in the case were several broadcasts from NBC News that edited the 911 call that Zimmerman had made not long before shooting Trayvon Martin on the night of Feb. 26, 2012 in a subdivision in Sanford, Florida. As a result of edits by NBC News, Zimmerman sounded as if he had volunteered that Martin is black. The full tape reveals that he was asked by the dispatcher whether the person he was following was “white, black or Hispanic?” Zimmerman’s complaint contends that NBC News knowingly misportrayed Zimmerman, who was acquitted last year of second-degree murder.
Nelson’s summary judgment in favor of NBC News follows a June 19 hearing in the matter and a March filing by NBC Universal seeking dismissal of the case. The network argued that Zimmerman was a public figure by virtue of his history as a neighborhood watch activist prior to the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. According to the Sentinel, Nelson sided with this argument, noting that Zimmerman had participated in a public protest over police issues as far back as 2010.
None of this is to suggest that NBC News didn’t commit significant journalistic mistakes. It was forced to issue a public apology for the mal-editing and it fired two employees as well. More to come on this development.