NBC News got caught with its hand in the cookie jar thanks to a segment on the "Today" show that exercised a little creative editing of a call between neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman and a Sanford, Fla., police dispatcher. Let's let Washington Post blogger Eric Wemple take up the tale:
NBC told this blog today that it would investigate its handling of a piece on the "Today" show that ham-handedly abridged the conversation between George Zimmerman and a dispatcher in the moments before the death of Trayvon Martin. A statement from NBC:
"We have launched an internal investigation into the editorial process surrounding this particular story."
Great news right there. As exposed by Fox News and media watchdog site NewsBusters, the "Today" segment took this approach to a key part of the dispatcher call:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black.
Here's how the actual conversation went down:
Zimmerman: 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 black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
The difference between what "Today" put on its air and the actual tape? Complete: In the "Today" version, Zimmerman volunteered that this person "looks black," a sequence of events that would more readily paint Zimmerman as a racial profiler. In reality's version, Zimmerman simply answered a question about the race of the person whom he was reporting to the police. Nothing prejudicial at all in responding to such an inquiry.
In an appearance on Fox News's "Hannity," Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, called this elision on the part of "Today" an "all-out falsehood" — not just a distortion or misrepresentation.
And it's a falsehood with repercussions. Much of the public discussion over the past week has settled on how conflicting facts and interpretations call into question whether Zimmerman acted justifiably or criminally. That's a process that'll continue. But one set of facts is ironclad, and that's the back-and-forth between Zimmerman and the dispatcher. To portray that exchange in a way that wrongs Zimmerman is high editorial malpractice well worthy of the investigation that NBC is now mounting.
"High editorial malpractice" at least: "tainting the jury pool" would also be a fair characterization, I would say.
So far, the gun community has not rushed to give Zimmerman some sort of martyr status. Most think he was guilty, at the very least, of very poor judgment and tactics that reflected badly on the rest of us.
But this sort of media manipulation reeks of what Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in another context, called a "high tech lynching." If you're looking for a single incident that sums up why gun owners don't trust the national media, this is it.