— Bud Norman
— Bud Norman
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.
— Bud Norman
All we know about the death of Trayvon Martin is what we read in the news, and much of what appears in the news often turns out to be wrong. The only pertinent facts known with any certainty are: That on Feb. 26 Martin was shot to death in Sanford, Fla., by a man named George Zimmerman; Martin was unarmed; Zimmerman was not arrested at the scene; and it was tragic.
These few facts clearly warrant an investigation by the proper local and state authorities, perhaps even federal law enforcement officials, and if the results of that investigation prove damning to Zimmerman he should answer to whatever charges are called for and face whatever punishment is proscribed by law. A lynch mob is not warranted, even by the additional facts that Martin was a young black man and Zimmerman is not.
Given the unhappy state of race relations in America, however, it was predictable that something akin to a lynch mob would develop. The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose incendiary rhetoric preceded the murderous pogrom in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section in 1991 and a fatal fire at a Harlem clothing store in 1995, has led rallies demanding an arrest and conviction. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has “tweeted” to his followers that “Soon and very soon, the law of retaliation may very well be applied,” adding that “You must get up and do it for yourself.” Taking the advice to heart, the New Black Panther Party has reportedly offered a $10,000 payment for the “capture” of Zimmerman. Anyone seeking to collect the reward can consult the “tweets” of filmmaker Spike Lee, who posted Zimmerman’s address and asked his followers to pass it along through the Internet. Several did, adding threats with explicitly racial language.
In each case the calls for revenge are couched as a demand for justice, but mobs and intimidation are never conducive to justice.
Justice can only be based on the truth, and at this point none of these men can possibly know all the relevant facts. The infamous Tawana Brawley hoax that Sharpton helped to perpetrate, the rush to convict the Duke University lacrosse team on rape charge that were later disproved, and countless other racially-charged controversies that turned out to be something very than what was originally reported should serve as caution against premature conclusions. Already stories are appearing the press that mention a witness who saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, and physical evidence corroborating that the claim, as well as friends who vouch that Zimmerman had no animus toward any race and was on good terms with black family members. Even if true those stories don’t necessarily exonerate Zimmerman, but they could lead to a lesser charge than murder, and at this point it will take a courageous prosecutor to bring charges that fail to satisfy the growing mob.
— Bud Norman