NBC doesn’t want to deal with George Zimmerman’s libel suit. In a Feb. 20 filing in the case, NBC Universal Media LLC asks a Florida circuit court to stay the case until the conclusion of Zimmerman’s June trial for second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin.
The procedural part of the motion — that the libel case and the criminal case overlap and can’t proceed smoothly at the same time — is far less interesting than the substantive case that lawyers for NBC News advance in defense of the network.
To recap Zimmerman’s case against NBC News: On the night that he shot Martin, Zimmerman called 911 and narrated his pursuit of the teenager in his gated community in Sanford, Fla. A March 27 edition of the “Today” show abridged the 911 tape, as follows:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.
Here’s what that abridgment was abridging:
Zimmerman: 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.
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
There’s a black-and-white difference between those two treatments. In the first, Zimmerman is an out-and-out racial profiler. In the second, he’s just a guy answering reasonable questions from an emergency dispatcher.
Among the important themes of NBC’s recent motion is the way other news outlets portrayed Zimmerman and the larger issues in the case. For example, it notes that a Reuters story played up the racial dimension of thing, quoting the Martin family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, as saying that race was the “600-pound elephant in the room.” It cites an early CBS piece noting that the case has “serious racial overtones.” It cites a Huffington Post account saying that “The martin family’s attorneys and black community leaders have said the teenager was profiled and targeted because he was young and black.” It cites a Christian Science Monitor account saying that “[f]or many tuning in across the nation, the shooting late last month in Florida of an unarmed black teenager by a suspicious neighborhood watch captain looks like a racially motivated murder.”