December 6, 2012

Lawyers for George Zimmerman, who has been charged in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, announced Thursday that their defendant has sued NBC for defamation.

Zimmerman is also suing two people fired by the network and an owned-and-operated affiliate for their role in airing edited audio of a 911 call that was made before the shooting. Also being sued is one person still employed by the network, as well as the network itself.

As Andrew Beaujon reported in October, when sources told the New York Post such a suit was imminent,

NBC broadcast three reports using audio edited to make it appear Zimmerman said, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” The first report was produced by WTVJ in Miami, which fired reporter Jeff Burnside, who was involved in editing it. “Today” broadcast a report apparently influenced by WTVJ’s that edited the audio the same way; reporter Lilia Luciano lost her job with the network after that. The [Ron] Allen report was broadcast after those two, and apparently used the same audio track as the second.

Zimmerman’s suit names Burnside, Luciano and Allen, who is still employed by NBC.

Seventeen-year-old Martin, who was unarmed, was shot the evening of February 26, while walking in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.

The suit says:

NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain.

Their goal was simple: keep their viewers alarmed, and thus always watching, by menacing them with a reprehensible series of imaginary and exaggerated racist claims.

The suit also cites the use of “misleading photos from years ago to identify Martin’s and Zimmerman’s appearances.”

Related: The iconic photos of Trayvon Martin & George Zimmerman

Further, it says the defendants “pounced on the Zimmerman/Martin” matter in part to help buttress “their failing news programs, particularly the plummeting ratings for their ailing Today Show.”

“Due to the defendants journalistic crimes, Zimmerman has been transformed into one of the most hated men in America,” says the suit.

The edited 911 call aired in March. The following month, NBC News President Steve Capus said editing the audio was “a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call.” The lawsuit calls Capus’ statement a “bogus non-apology.”

Poynter senior faculty Al Tompkins said by email, “The best outcome of this lawsuit, which I believe will not stand, would be for media to seriously examine and publicly explain their standards for audio and video editing.”

Zimmerman’s defense announced the suit on two of three websites it has created for him: One about the murder case, one for a legal defense fund and now one for the NBC case.
George Zimmerman files lawsuit against NBC over editing incident

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Julie Moos ( has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
Julie Moos

More News

Back to News


Comments are closed.