NBC's Botch Job on Zimmerman

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 5 2012 10:03 AM

NBC's Botch Job on Zimmerman

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It was Erik Wemple's blog that first clued me in to the Today Show screw-up. The gist: One of the first segments on George Zimmerman's final 911 call made a context-shredding edit. Here was the conversation between Zimmerman and a dispatcher.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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.
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And here was what Today ran.

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

The difference? Let's say you're the least racist person on the planet. You're like the "human being" mascot from Community. You are asked whether someone in your line of sight is black, white, or Hispanic. You say "black." A little different then vouching the information yourself, isn't it?

NBC News* has announced that there was "an error made in the production process that we deeply regret." Sure. It's possible that some editor clipped the audio because the difference didn't really occur to them. The larger story, at the time, was that Zimmerman had made a series of 911 calls about suspicious-looking black youths in the gated community. NBC screwed up, badly. It added special sauce where no sauce was required.

But the NBC screw-up has produced another, more meta story. Wemple's post about the screw-up, which keys off of the Media Research Center's original scoop, is the most popular item in the history of his blog. It's gotten 13,000 shares on Facebook, more than 2000 comments, nearly 1000 tweets. His follow-up about the apology is just as popular, with twice as many comments. There's fuming about Al Sharpton, strategizing for a Zimmerman defamation lawsuit, etc. It's passionate. This is just a fractal of something that's been going on for two weeks: The backlash to the Martin "narrative." You saw this in the Pew poll about new opinions of the case, and I hear it in some conversations in Florida. We were told that this case had something to do with race, and it doesn't. It needs to stop before somebody gets hurt. And NBC's botch job is fat, low target to shoot at.

*I'm an MSNBC contributor, FWIW.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.