NBC News enjoyed a big win Monday after a Florida judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by George Zimmerman after the news outlet maliciously edited a call Zimmerman made to 911 in order to make it look as though the Hispanic Zimmerman had racially profiled Trayvon Martin, who was black.
During a March 2012 broadcast of NBC’s Today Show, an edited version of the 911 tape was aired:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.
The truth is that the unedited audio actually 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.
Breitbart News was the first media outlet to discover the fraudulent editing. The end result was three unnamed NBC News producers being fired.
Circuit Court Judge Debra S. Nelson ruled that Zimmerman was “unable to demonstrate that the editing choices at issue resulted in a materially false change in the meaning of what he actually said.”
In other words, NBC’s editing did not make George Zimmerman sound racist because he sounded racist already. Zimmerman said that NBC aired a tape in which he said that Martin “looks black,” but cut out the 911 operator’s question asking Zimmerman to describe the 17-year-old he was at the time following.
The judge pointed to another portion of the tape in which Zimmerman states Martin’s race with no prompting, to support her argument that NBC did not change Zimmerman’s meaning.
Regarding the use of a racial epithet by George Zimmerman, Nelson ruled that the tape was “at best, ambiguous” on that point. NBC then could not be found to have shown “actual malice” in characterizing what Zimmerman said as a racially insulting term.
The judge also said that Zimmerman isn’t protected like any other private citizen from libel because he deliberately and publicly added to “the public controversy surrounding race relations and public safety in Sanford,” and that Zimmerman “pursued a course of conduct that ultimately led to the death of Martin and the specific controversy surrounding it.”
The standard of libel and defamation with a public figure is higher than that of a private citizen. Zimmerman would have to prove NBC used “actual malice” against him. The judge did not believe the news outlet had.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC