George Zimmerman is suing over an edited 911 police call from the night he gunned down Trayvon Martin. The case against NBC News was stayed pending the outcome of the criminal case. Now that’s out of the way, Zimmerman’s Philadelphia attorney James Beasley is ready to proceed, according to The Washington Post. “We’re going to start in earnest ASAP. We just have to get the stay lifted which is a ministerial act,” Beasley told the paper via e-mail. When asked how the not-guilty verdict affects the civil case against NBC News, Beasley responded, “This verdict of not guilty is just that, and shows that at least this jury didn’t believe that George was a racist, profiling, or anything that the press accused George of being. That probably doesn’t get you that much, but it’s simply time for us to start the case and hold accountable anyone who was irresponsible in their journalism.” The original 24-page complaint accused NBC of creating “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.”
Filed in Seminole County, the suit adds that “NBC News 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.” NBC correspondent Ron Allen is named as a defendant, as are Lilia Rodriguez Luciano and Jeff Burnside; the latter two were fired after an internal investigation determined that the tape had been edited. NBC apologized to Zimmerman, but that was not enough. Here’s how NBC, in a March 27, 2012, broadcast of the Today show, manipulated the tape:
Here is what NBC edited:
Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
But the full tape went like this:
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.”
911 Police Dispatcher: “OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?”
Zimmerman: “He looks black.”
NBC responded to Zimmerman’s complaint by noting that, if he was convicted of the second-degree murder charge, “that fact alone will constitute substantial evidence that the destruction of his reputation is the result of his own criminal conduct, and not of the broadcasts at issue which, like countless other news reports disseminated by media entities throughout the country, reported on the underlying events.” But on Saturday, a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty of all charges. Zimmerman is claiming “severe and extreme emotional stress” over the edited tape and the perception it created, asking for damages “substantially in excess of the jurisdictional limit”. While naming no dollar figure, the complaint says, “plaintiff seeks substantial compensation and exemplary damages to punish the defendants for their outrageous fraud upon the public, designed to mislead our nation, create a national uproar, forever ostracize Zimmerman, and taint his jury pool, all to profit and attract attention to their television news programs.” Zimmerman is asking for a jury trial. Besides Philadelphia’s Beasley Firm, Zimmerman is represented by the Orlando firm The O’Mara Law Group.
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