(NEW YORK) — George Zimmerman, the man facing second-degree murder charges in one of the most racially charged and controversial cases in recent memory, is seeking damages against NBC for portraying him as a “racist and predatory villain.”
The suit, filed Thursday afternoon, claims, “NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity to increase ratings.”
An NBC News spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The suit claims the network pounced on the story in large part to help aid the ailing ratings of its morning program, the Today show. It centers around “manipulated” exchanges between George Zimmerman and a non-emergency dispatcher shortly before unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. The audio aired a few times on several NBC platforms beginning March 19.
The suit blames NBC in large part for the media frenzy surrounding the case and hostilities against Zimmerman.
The suit points out two versions of the exchanges that aired beginning on March 19 for more than a week that they say the network manipulated to “create the misleading impression that Zimmerman was suspicious of Martin’s conduct because he is a black male.”
In audio aired March 19, according to the suit, Zimmerman describes Martin and his race before he actually brought it up. Here is part of that exchange, according to the lawsuit:
Zimmerman: There is a real suspicious guy. Ah, this guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something. He looks black.
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Dispatcher: OK we don’t need you to do that.
On March 20, according to the suit, NBC aired a different exchange, not only leaving out Zimmerman’s response acknowledging the request to stop following the unarmed teen but again inserting comments Zimmerman made about Martin’s race before he was asked. Here is the suit’s representation of part of that exchange:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good or on drugs or something. He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Dispatcher: OK, we don’t need you to do that.
The suit claims the “manipulations” changed the perception of the conversations and that NBC repeatedly ran versions of the altered exchange until other media outlets picked up on it.
By then, the suit claims, the “damage was done and the indelible image of Zimmerman stalking Martin because ‘he looks black’ fixed in the public consciousness.”
At the time, after the discovery was made, NBC News President Steve Capus called the incident a “mistake.”
At least two NBC employees were fired as a result.
Zimmerman is seeking unspecified damages against the network but is asking for enough to “effectively punish the Defendants [NBC] for their conduct and deter them and others similarly situated from similar acts in the future.”
The suit also points out the role of the Rev. Al Sharpton, a commentator for MSNBC who was also organizing rallies for Trayvon Martin as he broadcast from the town where the shooting occurred, Sanford, Fla., on behalf of NBC.
In a just-released statement on Zimmerman’s defense site, gzlegalcase.com, Zimmerman writes, “What happened that night was a tragedy: a tragedy that NBC exploited creating an opportunity for profit….This lawsuit is a product of NBC’s intentional distortion of facts. I do not know, because of my situation, how I will be able to provide for my wife and myself in the future so I expect NBC to be held responsible.”
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