In March 2012, NewsBusters reported NBC’s Today show deceptively edited George Zimmerman’s 911 call to make it appear he was a racist.
On Sunday, HBO actually had one of its primary characters on the series The Newsroom deceptively edit that call exactly the way NBC News did it (video follows with transcribed highlights and commentary):
About three quarters of the way into the program, "News Night" anchor Will McAvoy played by Jeff Daniels was interviewing someone about the Trayvon Martin case.
During the interview, the 911 tape was aired without the dispatcher asking, "And this guy: is he white, black, or Hispanic" before Zimmerman responded “He looks black.”
A few minutes later, a news scanner played by Dev Patel found the mistake as he was transcribing the call, and proceeded to alert associate producer Maggie Jordan played by Alison Pill.
She rushed to tell the executive producer MacKenzie Morgan played by Emily Mortimer as well as the news division president Charlie Skinner played by Sam Waterston.
The decision was quickly made that they would issue a correction at the end of the program.
A bit later, producer Jim Harper played by John Gallagher Jr. approached Jordan to ask her what happened.
“I swear to God, it was for time,” she answered.
“You didn’t hear it and think ‘If I take out the question, and only leave the answer, it won’t sound like it was an answer?’” Harper asked.
“I didn’t,” Jordan replied.
“It was just for time?” Harper pressed.
“Yes,” she insisted.
“You weren’t trying to see justice done?” Harper pushed.
“I had one pass. I was hearing it for the first time,” Jordan insisted. “I had six minutes to cut a five minute piece of audio down to 25 seconds. I should have been listening for it. I know what 911 calls sound like. I just, I never remotely prepared for this scenario.”
As a little background, Jordan is currently having some emotional problems that have led her to heavy drinking. Earlier in the program, Harper said she smelled of alcohol.
As the show drew to a climax, McAvoy told Morgan that his dad who had been rushed to the hospital earlier in the day had died.
This was moments before he was going back on the air to issue the correction.
As the cameras went live, McAvoy was just staring into space obviously thinking about his father. When he finally regained his composure, he looked at the camera and said, “We have an important correction in the Trayvon Martin story.”
The picture faded to black, and the credits rolled meaning that viewers never got to see him do the full correction or hear the entire, unedited 911 call.
So why would HBO and producer Aaron Sorkin do this?
Why would HBO want to inject itself into this issue with a lawsuit pending and the nation's nerves still raw unless it was attempting to somehow vindicate NBC News for its negligence.
After all, the case made in this program was that one individual with emotional problems who may have been drunk was solely responsible and did it for time.
It should be very interesting to see what comments come out of HBO or NBC News about this in the coming days.