SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman, charged in the shooting death of a 17-year-old Florida boy, sued NBC Universal on Thursday for using “the oldest form of yellow journalism” by editing an audio tape of his 911 call to make him sound racist, the lawsuit said.
Zimmerman is seeking “damages in excess of the jurisdictional limit” in Seminole County Circuit Court in Florida, where the lawsuit is filed.
Zimmerman, who is Hispanic and is charged with second-degree murder, is accused of fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, who was African-American. The February incident has provoked national controversy.
Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense. Attorneys for Martin’s family say the teen was shot and killed “in cold blood.”
“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,” the lawsuit said.
“Because of NBC’s deceptive and exploitative manipulations, the public wrongly believes that Zimmerman ‘us(ed) a racial epithet’ while describing Martin during the call to the dispatcher on that fateful night,” the suit said.
A spokesman for NBC Universal couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.
The defamation lawsuit accuses the network of sensationalizing and manipulating a potential “racial powder keg that would result in months, if not years, of topics for their failing news program, particularly the plummeting ratings for their ailing Today Show.”
The edited recordings included multiple deletions, removed intervening dialogue between Zimmerman and the dispatcher and juxtaposed unrelated content “to make it appear that Zimmerman was a racist, and that he was racially profiling Trayvon Martin,” the lawsuit said.
NBC aired various edited versions of the 911 call on March 19, 20, 22 and 27, the suit said.
The suit accuses the network of malice, including correspondent Ron Allen’s segment on the Today Show on March 27.
“Allen’s broadcast removed a critical aspect of the dialogue between Zimmerman and the dispatcher, bringing the ‘up to no good’ and ‘he looks black’ statements even closer together, to further the false and defamatory implication that Zimmerman had said he believed Martin was ‘up to no good’ because ‘he looks black,’ ” the suit said.
The lawsuit accuses NBC of falsely claiming that Zimmerman said “f—ing coons” on the February 26 call.
“The truth, as known to the defendants, was that Zimmerman said ‘f_____ punks’ and there was no evidence, or reason to believe, that Zimmerman uttered a racial epithet during the call,” the suit said.
Zimmerman only mentioned Martin’s race when prompted by the dispatcher, the suit said.
NBC never aired an “earnest” retraction and never apologized to Zimmerman, who has since experienced death threats, a bounty on his head and a genuine fear for his life, the suit said. He now lives in hiding, court documents said.
“NBC’s President, Steve Capus, made a bogus non-apology that claimed the doctoring was merely a ‘mistake,’ ” the suit said.
Zimmerman wears a bulletproof vest and was even dismissed from his college because it felt the death threats endangered fellow students, the lawsuit said. At the time of the incident with Martin, Zimmerman was living in a community known as The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida, court papers said.
“Due to the defendants’ journalistic crimes, Zimmerman has been transformed into one of the most hated men in America,” the suit said.
The suit also names as defendants Lilia Rodriguez Luciano of Dade County, Florida, who was reporting directly from Sanford County, Florida. She was terminated by NBC as a result of her reporting, the suit said.
Also named as a defendant is Jeffrey Burnside of Dade County, another journalist who was reporting from Sanford County to his station WTVJ in Miami, Florida, the suit said. Burnside was also fired by NBC, the suit said.