George Zimmerman, who shot Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in what he says was an act of self-defense, has sued NBC for airing a 911 call he claims was edited to portray him as "a racist and predatory villain."
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder. His lawsuit contends that many believe the shooting was racially motivated because of NBC's misleading editing. It says Zimmerman's reputation has been battered and that he has received death threats.
Filed in state court in Seminole County, Fla., the suit accuses NBC of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Though it doesn't name a specific dollar amount, it seeks enough money to "effectively punish the defendants" and deter them and others from similar actions.
NBC did not immediately respond to a request from TheWrap for comment Thursday.
"NBC News 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 complaint begins. "Their goal was simple: Keep their viewers alarmed, and thus always watching, by menacing them with a reprehensible series of imaginary and exaggerated racist claims."
The network's edit of the call made it sound as if Zimmerman volunteered to a dispatcher that Martin (pictured) was black. In fact, Zimmerman provided the Martin's race only when asked by the 911 dispatcher.
Besides NBC Universal Media, defendants in the suit include Lilia Rodriguez Luciano, an NBC correspondent based in Miami, and Jeff Burnside, a Miami-based reporter, both of whom were reportedly fired over their Zimmerman coverage. It also names Ron Allen, an NBC correspondent who is still listed as an employee on MSNBC's website.
The suit said Burnside first aired the manipulated tape on March 19, and that Luciano aired a different but similarly misleading edit the next day. Also on March 20, Allen falsely reported that Zimmerman had used a "racial epithet," according to the complaint. The suit also describes later airings of the edited call, including on NBC's "Today."
The shooting has continued a long, emotional national debate over racial profiling. Though NBC was far from the only organization to cover the shooting, the suit claims the network "pounced on the Zimmerman/Martin matter because they knew this tragedy could be, with proper sensationalizing and manipulation, a racial powderkeg that would result in months, if not years, of topics for their failing news programs, particularly the plummeting ratings for their ailing 'Today Show.'"
Though NBC would dispute that its ratings are "plummeting," "Today" has lost ground this year to ABC's "Good Morning America."
NBC News President Steve Capus said in April that the edit was unfortunate, but not deliberately misleading. He told Reuters that it was "a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call."
"This guy looks like he's up to no good … he looks black," Zimmerman said in one of NBC's edits of the call.
However, a crucial exchange between Zimmerman and the 911 dispatcher was cut.
"This guy looks like he's up to no good," Zimmerman is heard telling the dispatcher in the full version of the tape. "Or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about."
"OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?" the dispatcher asks.
Zimmerman replies, "He looks black."