The Racial Slur Heard 'Round The Media In Zimmermann's 911 Call

The Racial Slur Heard 'Round The Media In Zimmermann's 911 Call

The one concrete piece of “evidence” used to prove George Zimmermann’s racist intent on the evening of the Trayvon Martin shooting was a racial slur that many in the media were sure they heard… until they didn’t.  How did this episode of creative speculation become part of the “facts” of the Trayvon Martin story?

As Joel Pollak detailed in his overview of how the Trayvon Martin case ballooned from a local shooting to a national Rorschach Test on race in America, the conventional wisdom that the story had volatile racial elements was beginning to crystalize as early as March 13, the day after NBC News’ Al Sharpton issued a statement claiming “[W]e are told that racial language was used when the young man reported his suspicions to police.”

Four days later, police released the 911 call and almost immediately people heard George Zimmermann make two overtly racist statements.  

The first was that Trayvon Martin “looked suspicious” because he was black.  By now we all know that Zimmerman’s reference to Martin’s race was in direct response to a standard protocol question posed by the 911 dispatcher asking for a description of a person being reported to authorities– no matter how NBC News tried to paint it otherwise.  

The second was an utterance that was almost impossible to hear with the naked ear.  While talking on the phone to the 911 dispatcher that chilly February evening, Zimmerman was heard to say “F**king {inaudible}.”  At least that is how a responsible news organization would have reported it.  But not NBC News analyst Touré or Current TV’s “Young Turk” Cenk Uygur.  They were confident that they heard “F**king C**ns.”  

By Monday, the 19th, those benefitting most from stoking the racial flames of this tragic shooting were spreading the word far and wide.  “Here’s the proof!  We told you the shooting was racially motivated!”  

It became the most prominent line of questioning employed by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell when grilling George Zimmerman’s friend and key character witness in the court of public opinion, Joe Oliver.  MSNBC’s Touré went back and forth with singer John Legend when Legend dared to suggest that he didn’t hear the racial slur that Touré had heard.  

By Tuesday, March 20, activist journalists on the left were so certain of the racial slur that Current TV’s Uygur felt confident enough to play the video unedited on his Current TV program.  Racial slur and obscenity for all the world to hear.  Most instructive is seeing why Uygur and Current TV chose to air the audio uncensored and to freely interpret the unintelligible utterance as a volatile racial slur for their audience.  Uygur told Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher:  

“The racial insult on the call could be pivotal to the case, especially on the issue of whether the federal government gets involved.”

Uygur revealed that his motivation in running the uncensored audio with his creative discovery of a racial slur was based on keeping the racial narrative alive to help hand the Justice Department reasonable grounds for a federal civil rights prosecution.  This is definitive advocacy journalism which, in and of itself, is not objectionable, except when you attempt to make up your audience’s mind for them instead of letting them reach their own conclusions.  Note how Uygur told Christopher, “The racial insult on the call…”.  Not the “alleged racial insult,” and not “the racial insult that I believe to hear”– no, in Uygur’s mind Zimmerman was a racist and it is proven by the racial insult that was so clear to any fair-minded listener.  

Touré also used it as his key piece of evidence in his famous meltdown with Piers Morgan on CNN.  CNN for their part brought in an audio expert to isolate the moment and play it over and over and over again for their viewers.  And again, instead of leaving it to the viewers decide for themselves, reporter Gary Tuchman felt compelled to say “It sounds like this allegation could be accurate. I wouldn’t swear to it in court. But that’s what it sounds like to me.”

Fast forward to Wednesday, April 4.  NBC News has already been caught deceptively editing the 911 call to make Zimmerman appear to find Martin suspicious because he was black.  Now, CNN decides to re-visit the racial slur audio by using a different audio expert.  Tuchman is in charge of this investigative report as well and this time, the results are different.  This time, Tuchman and his audio expert are sure they hear Zimmerman saying “F**king COLD” instead of a racial slur.  

And as if CNN didn’t look ridiculous enough with their embarrassing speculation and on-air interpretations of a one-syllable utterance that sounds more like a grunt than an actual word, the same network had yet a different audio expert on the very next day to assure viewers that what Zimmerman really said was “F**king PUNKS.” 

Touré, one of the leading disseminators of the racial slur meme took to Twitter to acknowledge the CNN reports.  With predictable hubris he declared that Zimmerman’s racism was already established beyond the racial slur that just two weeks ago he was sure he had heard:


Uygur, for his part, has been uncharacteristically silent about CNN’s audio enhancement.  It’s possible he still feels a bit stung by his former colleague Keith Olbermann’s very public criticism of his show and his lack of journalistic credibility.  NBC News’ Sharpton, O’Donnell and Matthews have also under-played the CNN story, as have most of the journalists who reported the supposed racial slur as one of the critical facts in this case that pointed to the obvious racist motivations of George Zimmermann.  

When media personalities like Touré, Sharpton and Uygur reveal their prime motivation to be a political agenda rather than to reveal the truth, the consequences of their actions are irrelevant to the greater cause they are pursuing.  For an activist and a political operative, that is generally accepted.  But, as on-air television hosts and analysts attempting to project an air of credibility for themselves and their networks, the standard should be higher than that of a political hack.  Unless, of course, the networks in question have thrown-away any pretense that their employees are anything but political hacks.  


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