George Zimmerman, charged in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, filed a defamation suit against NBC, reporter Ron Allen and two other news personnel on Thursday, claiming that the network’s edits of his 911 call to police were manipulated to make it sound like he was a racist.
His suit, which was filed in the circuit court in Seminole County, Fla., seeks unspecified damages.
Also named as defendants in the suit were reporter Lilia Rodriguez Luciano and producer Jeff Burnside, who were terminated last spring after stories surfaced about the editing of the calls.
“NBC created this false and defamatory misimpression using the oldest form of yellow journalism: manipulating Zimmerman’s own words, splicing together disparate parts of the recording to create the illusion of statements that Zimmerman never actually made,” Zimmerman’s suit stated.
The suit claims that the airing of the 911 call caused Zimmerman emotional distress, and exposed him to “public contempt, ridicule, hatred and threats to his life,” and “conveyed the impression that Zimmerman is a hostile ‘racist’ who shot Trayvon Martin because the young man was African American.”
“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,” the suit stated. “The goal was simple: keep their viewers alarmed, and thus always watching, by menacing them with a reprehensible series of imaginary and exaggerated racist claims.”
In a statement, NBCUniversal said, “We strongly disagree with the accusations made in the complaint. There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly. We intend to vigorously defend our position in court.”
NBC News conducted an internal investigation, concluding that the editing of the 911 tape was a “mistake,” according to news division president Steve Capus. In April, Capus told Reuters that personnel who were supposed to review the material did not catch the selective editing. NBC News apologized for the incident, although in his suit, Zimmerman’s legal team said that they had never apologized to him “for deliberately portraying him as a hostile racist who targeted Martin due to his race.”
His suit outlines how the 911 call was edited. On one of the NBC News broadcasts, on “Today” on March 27, Zimmerman is heard on the call telling the dispatcher, of Martin, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
But Zimmerman did not say the two sentences in sequence. His comment, “He looks black,” was made after the dispatcher asked him if Martin was “white, black or Hispanic?”
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder, but has pleaded not guilty and has claimed self defense.