NBC's Bad Edit Pre-dated Today Show And Still Appears on NBC News Sites
Update 10:00 pm: NBC 6 Miami corrected all three online articles discussed below around 6:00 - 7:00 pm ET. Since they don't note the corrections, I have added in screengrabs I took last night as verification. On all versions of the articles, scroll to the bottom to see the original date and time of publication.
Also, I don't know if NBC or NBC 6 Miami has seen this post, but if they have, it's probably because it was linked to by law professors Ann Althouse and Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, who get far more traffic.
Saturday and Sunday, Reuters reported it had interviewed MSNBC News President Steve Capus and others at NBC and got "the fullest explanation yet" of the network's racially-charged, misleading edit of George Zimmerman's 911 call that appeared on the Today Show on March 27. It was just a matter of time pressures inherent in morning news production, that was simply missed by the network's editorial controls, which include senior broadcast producer oversight, script editors, and sometimes legal standards review.[More...]
As part of the investigation, the producer who edited the call was questioned extensively about motivation, and it was determined that the person had cut the video clip down to meet a maximum time requirement for the length of the segment - a common pressure in morning television - and inadvertently edited the call in a way that proved misleading.
In checking LexisNexis last night, I noticed the March 27 Today Show segment was the second time the Today Show used the inappropriate edit. The first was on March 22, 2012, in a segment titled "Fallout from the Trayvon Martin shooting includes calls for Sanford police chief to resign". The segment featured a live report by NBC reporter Lilia Luciano in Sanford. The video, which was linked to by Luciano that day on her Twitter Feed, has been removed from the Today Show Website (although part of the transcript is still there, racial quote and all). From the transcript on Lexis:
LUCIANO: ...the teen gunned down by Neighborhood Watchman George Zimmerman last month as he walked through this gated community wearing a hoodie.
(Clip from 911 call)
Mr. GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black.
Unidentified 911 Operator: Did you see what he was wearing?
Mr. ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, a dark hoodie.
(End of clip)
This is the same thing the Today Show aired on March 27:
Luciano's live report on the March 22 Today Show, which included the distorted quote, was followed by a discussion between Matt Lauer, TODAY's legal correspondent Savannah Guthrie and commentator and former prosecutor Star Jones. To their credit, none of them referred to the words on the played clip. On the other hand, they also didn't notice the clip falsely portrayed the 9/11 call. Neither, apparently, did reporter Luciano or anyone at the editorial controls of the Today Show.
According to the transcript of the call, here's what was actually said:
Dispatcher: Sanford Police Department. …
Zimmerman: Hey we've had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there's a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. 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 white, black, or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?
Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He's [unintelligible], he was just staring…
Again, while NBC's video for Luciano's March 22 Today Show segment has been removed, the transcript is still there, with the misquote. It reads:
reporter: the teen gunned down last month as he walked through this gated community wearing a hoody.
>> he looks like he's up to no good. he looks black.
>> did you see what he was wearing?
>> yeah, a dark hoody.
But the Today Show is only half the story. Via Tom McGuire and Les Jones, news articles on NBC 6 Miami's website ran the same misleading, prejudicial edit in two articles days before either episode of Today Show aired, on March 19 and March 20.
I found a third article with an original date stamp of March 19 at 11: 21 pm , by Christina Hernandez. The cached version is here, but you need to click on the text version to see the quote, since there's a box with pictures covering it. (Again, Scroll to the bottom of the current version of the article to see the original post date and time.) Screengrabs of the cached headline in text format is here, and the portion of the article text with the quote and original timestamp is here.
Incredibly, all three articles are still on NBC 6 Miami's website,, distorted quote and all.
The March 20 NBC 6 Miami article, by Jeff Burnside, has the headline "Trayvon Martin's Shooter Defended By Fellow Neighborhood Watch Captain." Scroll to the bottom of the article for the original publication date and time. You can also see the original dates match the dates comments began.(Screengrab of headline here and quote here).
The distorted edit hardly seems like an oversight, since there's a hyperlink under the prejudicial quote which leads to the first article, which shows at the bottom it was originally dated March 19 at 7:02 pm (and since updated on April 2 (screengrab here -- another missed chance to correct), headlined White House Monitoring Trayvon Martin Case as Protests Mount. The authors of this March 19 article are Christina Hernandez, Jeff Burnside and Edward B. Colby. (Screengrabs of headline here and quote here)
From the March 20 article by Jeff Burnside (screengrab showing quotehere):
Their confrontation ended with Martin getting shot in the chest.“This guy looks like he’s up to no good … he looks black,” Zimmerman told a police dispatcher from his car. His father has said that Zimmerman is Hispanic, grew up in a multiracial family, and is not racist.
When you click on the link, you go to the March 19 article, by Christina Hernandez, Jeff Burnside and Edward B. Colby, which includes the falsely portrayed quote (screengrab of quote here).
On his call to police, Zimmerman called Martin, a junior at Krop Senior High School in Miami, “a real suspicious guy.”
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good … he looks black,” Zimmerman said, while calling police from his car. He said Martin was wearing a gray hoodie and had “his hand in his waistband.”
So the first article with the bad edit was by Christina Hernandez, Jeff Burnside and Edward B. Colby on March 19. Christina Hernandez is also the author of the article I found that was published later that night (screengrab with quote here), while Jeff Burnside is the author of the March 20 article. The Today show segments aired March 22 and March 27.
As of today, Jeff Burnside still has a bio at NBC 6 Miami. Edward B. Colby does not, although maybe he never did. Does he work for NBC or is he a free-lancer or AP reporter? It's hard to tell. This February 12, 2012 article says it is written "By NBC Miami's Jeff Burnside and Edward B. Colby and MSNBC Staff." This February 23 article has the byline "Edward B. Colby, NBC Miami."And while the Associated Press is also credited on the article Colby co-authored on Zimmerman, he wrote a lot for NBC 6 Miami -- a search of its website shows more than 155 articles written or co-written by Colby.
Christina Hernandez is still listed on NBC 6 Miami's website, as is her March 19 article, Father of Teen Shot in Sanford Working "To Bring Justice For My Son", with the mangled, distorted edit of the call (Cached version here):
In his call to 911, Zimmerman said, "There's a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. He looks black."
So the blatant, racially charged distortion of George Zimmerman's 911 call started on NBC 6 Miami on March 19, appearing in two articles by three different writers. It was repeated on March 20 in an article attributed to one of the three writers. The articles have been updated, but the quotes remain. The falsely portrayed quote aired on the Today Show on March 22 during a live segment with reporter Lilia Luciano, and again on March 27 with reporter Ron Allen.
For NBC and MSNBC to characterize the error as a single episode caused by a producer's time constraints in getting a video clip ready for live morning television, which just unfortunately happened to be missed by layers of editorial control, is not very convincing.
While of course I have no way of knowing, it seems to me the botched editing was not an intentional attempt to smear George Zimmerman. I think it was the result of carelessness, inattention and incompetence. What's truly disturbing is that editorial controls at NBC, MSNBC and NBC 6 Miami, all failed to catch the error, not once, but five times. That's nothing short of inexcusable.
While the producer who put the clip together bears the initial blame, as do the reporters who included it in their live segments and the writers who included it in their articles, I think the people equally accountable and deserving of being fired are the script editor, the senior producers responsible for oversight, and those in the legal and standards review departments. It was their job to catch errors before they hit the airwaves and internet and they failed miserably. It's like they were all out to lunch -- all day for seven days. And the articles haven't been corrected to this day.
It also seems that NBC 6 Miami has a systemic problem. Their writers are repeating false information from one story to the next, spreading it like a virus. Not just one writer, but several. Not just one time, but multiple times. Even after two weeks, and notwithstanding updates to the original articles, the three articles with the distorted, racially charged quote are still up on NBC 6 Miami's website. I think the responsibility for that lies with NBC 6 Miami's senior management. They need a jolt. Demoting them or transferring them to the boondocks would be a good start. It would also send the appropriate message to their replacements.
One last thought: Whatever happened to "fact-checkers?" Did NBC eliminate their jobs as a cost-cutting move? If so, they should bring them back. The sooner the better.
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