An Extraordinary Coincidence

Try as we might, we just can’t imagine how NBC might have accidentally edited the tape of George Zimmerman’s now famous 911 call on the night of the Trayvon Martin shooting into the version that it aired on the “Today Show” and other network programs.

In the actual call, which is widely available to anyone who wants to hear it, Zimmerman told the 911 dispatcher that “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.” The dispatcher then asks, “OK, and this guy — is he white, black or Hispanic?” Zimmerman then replies, “He looks black.”

The way that NBC’s viewers heard it, Zimmerman told the dispatcher that “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”

NBC has fired the unnamed producer responsible for the editing, but nonetheless insists that it was simply a honest mistake. That Zimmerman sounds far more racist in the edited version than in the actual call, network executives say, is just one of those unfortunate coincidences that will happen from time to time in the pursuit of the truth.

Maybe so, but it does seem a most extraordinary coincidence. Had the change occurred as a result of a simple slip of the finger on a machine or a glitch in the tape the call most likely would have wound up as “This guy looks like he’s up to black,” or “This guy looks like he’s raining,” or “It’s raining black,” or any of the many other incomprehensible possible outcomes. That it should accidentally result in the only possible elision that makes Zimmerman seem an unabashed racist, and fit so neatly into the version of the story that NBC and its affiliated networks have been presenting since the beginning of the controversy, does seem suspiciously convenient.

Readers of a certain age will recall the ridicule that was directed toward President Richard Nixon when he claimed that an 18-and-a-half minute gap in the Watergate tapes was caused by his secretary’s accidental switch of a button while transcribing the tape. The gap occurred just as a conversation between Nixon and his advisors was getting interesting, and some curious reporters found that the location of the tape machine and the typewriter being used for the transcription would have required some unusual contortions for the story to be true, so the incident did much to contribute to the public’s disbelief about Nixon’s honesty.

We doubt that NBC will be subjected to the same sort of scrutiny, however, nor that the network will endure the same public disdain that fell on Nixon. They’re not the Fox network, after all.

— Bud Norman

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