Murder suspect George Zimmerman sued NBC on Thursday, alleging that the network and its reporters manipulated the 911 tape in which he was heard to create “a racial powder keg” that would be sure to generate ratings in the wake of the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
In the recording heard by NBC viewers on the “Today Show”, Zimmerman seemed to say without prompting: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black,” according to the Washington Post.
Edited out was the 911 dispatcher asking Zimmerman whether the person he was suspicious of was “black, white or Hispanic.”
Zimmerman, a 29-year-old volunteer neighborhood watch captain, faces second-degree murder charges for shooting Martin, 17, during a confrontation in Sanford, Florida on Feb. 26. Martin was unarmed and walking back to his father’s girlfriend’s house when Zimmerman first confronted him.
Zimmerman is claiming self-defense under Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, but the incident has sparked outrage across the nation.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Seminole County, Fla., near Orlando, Zimmerman claims the network intentionally edited the tape as to make him appear “a racist and predatory villain.”
NBC “pounced on the Zimmerman/Martin matter because [the network] knew this tragedy could be, with proper sensationalization and manipulation, a racial powder-keg that would result in months, if not years, of topics for their failing news programs, particularly the plummeting ratings for their ailing ‘Today Show,’ ” the suit alleges.
NBC News president Steve Capus told Reuters in April that the edit was a “mistake, not deliberate” misrepresentation.
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But the complaint says the network never apologized to Zimmerman “for deliberately portraying him as a hostile racist who targeted Martin due to his race.”
Zimmerman is seeking an undisclosed amount of money in the lawsuit, which also names as defendants the NBC correspondents Ron Allen and Lilia Rodriguez Luciano, as well as Jeff Burnside, a reporter for the NBC-owned station in Miami.
Luciano, Burnside and an NBC producer were fired after a network investigation determined that the 911 tape had been edited.
NBC denied any wrongdoing in a statement issued Thursday night.
“We strongly disagree with the accusations made in the complaint,” it said in the statement. “There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly. We intend to vigorously defend our position in court.”
Zimmerman is set to begin trial in June.