Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimmerman v. NBC

The US media in general disgraced themselves in the Zimmerman case, but NBC was by far the worst of the lot. Here's the version of Zimmerman's call to the police that NBC broadcast on the Today show:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.
Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? It clearly supports the idea that Zimmerman was a racist, and that he thought Martin was 'up to no good' because he was black.

Here's the full text 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.
Reads a bit differently, doesn't it? Now, Zimmerman's concerns are based on Martin's behavior, not his skin color. He brings up race only in response to the dispatcher's question.

Last year, after the doctoring of the tape was made public, and Zimmerman's lawyers complained, NBC didn’t even bother to try to defend their indefensible lack of journalistic ethics, they simply said, effectively, “So what? You’ll never collect damages.”
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.”
This is based on the fact that, in the US, a person can collect for defamation of character only if he has a reputation that could be defamed. A convicted murderer would have a hard time convincing a jury that he had suffered any damage by being called a racist.

But now that point is moot, and my guess is that Zimmerman could now convince a jury that NBC, in its falsification of the recording, had deliberately caused him a great deal of damage (the fact that the action was intentional rather than accidental will likely make things much worse for NBC).

I’ll bet NBC’s lawyers are trying to figure out a good starting point for the settlement negotiations.

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