Now that he has successfully defended himself from criminal charges brought against him by the state of Florida for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman is going to resume a lawsuit he filed several months earlier against NBC News.
Launched in the midst of the state prosecution against him by a separate civil team, the lawsuit is a defamation claim alleging that NBC deliberately altered an audio recording so as to make Zimmerman appear to be racist.
Contacted by the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, Zimmerman attorney James Beasley stated that he and his team were eager to resume the suit, which had been put on hold due to the beginning of the criminal trial. With that out of the way, they now intend to procede.
“We’re going to start in earnest asap, we just have to get the stay lifted which is a ministerial act,” Beasley said via email.
The attorney did acknowledge that while Zimmerman's victory in his criminal trial could be helpful to this civil suit, it was not a guarantee that he would win his defamation case:
“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 lawsuit, which was filed in December of last year, centers on an audio recording that was produced when Zimmerman called in to local police during the night that he and Martin met and struggled. In the original, Zimmerman is asked by the dispatcher about the race of the man he could dimly see that night. "He looks black," the neighborhood watch volunteer replied. NBC edited out the question and made Zimmerman sound as if he had voluntarily identified Martin's race.
The left-leaning television news operation made several different versions of this clip, one of which ran on its former MSNBC.com website, March 21, 2012. This was first exposed as fraudulent by Breitbart.com blogger Dan Riehl. NewsBusters publisher Brent Bozell revealed that NBC had run a different version of the altered clip on its "Today" morning show.
The lawsuit centers on the "Today" version of the audio recording although it aired several different versions of it on March 19, 20, 22, and 27, according to a CNN report about the complaint.
Zimmerman also alleges that NBC recklessly claimed that he had used the archaic racial slur coons when referring to some black men who he claimed had successfully burglarized his neighborhood. This was later demonstrated to be false. Even the prosecution in Zimmerman's criminal case admitted that the word used was punks.
In the original filing last year, Zimmerman alleged that NBC deliberately falsified the recording in a malicious attempt to paint him as a racist:
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. [...]
Because of NBC's deceptive and exploitative manipulations, the public wrongly believes that Zimmerman 'use(d) a racial epithet' while describing Martin during the call to the dispatcher on that fateful night.
Since the edited recordings were aired, NBC has claimed that it had not engaged in a "deliberate act to misrepresent," saying instead that the phoney edits had originated out of a desire to shorten the audio for television air-time instead of trying to defame Zimmerman. NBC has since fired three separate people involved with the faked recordings although it has never actually apologized on the air to viewers. That reluctance to apologize may prove very useful to Zimmerman now that his suit against NBC is likely to resume.
Update 19:24. This post has been updated to remove an incorrect statement about Zimmerman having called 911 during the night he shot Martin. He had not, he called a non-emergency police number.