The George Zimmerman lawsuit against NBC is dead.
Zimmerman suffered the major blow Monday morning at the hands of an Orlando, Florida, judge who threw out a lawsuit in which Zimmerman claimed that NBC made him sound like a racist by editing tape of a 911 call he made shortly before he shot teenager Trayvon Martin dead.
In the lawsuit, Zimmerman claimed that NBC deliberately edited the 911 recording, taking his remarks out of context to make him appear as if he assumed Martin was a criminal simply because he was black — and also that he had used a racially derogatory term in reference to Martin.
Zimmerman said that NBC broadcast the edited tape on four occasions in March of 2012. Zimmerman shot and killed Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. He was later acquitted of a second-degree murder charge.
But Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson ruled, in giving the heave-ho to the George Zimmerman lawsuit, that Zimmerman was “unable to demonstrate that the editing choices at issue resulted in a materially false change in the meaning of what he actually said.”
In other words, NBC’s editing did not make George Zimmerman sound racist because he sounded racist already. Zimmerman said that NBC aired a tape in which he said that Martin “looks black,” but cut out the 911 operator’s question asking Zimmerman to describe the 17-year-old he was at the time following.
The judge pointed to another portion of the tape in which Zimmerman states Martin’s race with no prompting, to support her argument that NBC did not change Zimmerman’s meaning.
Regarding the use of a racial epithet by George Zimmerman, Nelson ruled that the tape was “at best, ambiguous” on that point. NBC then could not be found to have shown “actual malice” in characterizing what Zimmerman said as a racially insulting term.
The judge ruled that Zimmerman turned himself into a public figure by deliberately and publicly adding to “the public controversy surrounding race relations and public safety in Sanford,” and that Zimmerman “pursued a course of conduct that ultimately led to the death of Martin and the specific controversy surrounding it.”
For a public figure to prove libel, he or she must show that the accused defamer used “actual malice” in publishing false information. In the George Zimmerman lawsuit, he would have needed to prove that NBC knew it was portraying Zimmerman falsely by editing the tape, but went ahead and did it anyway.
The judge didn’t see it that way.
NBC fired the three producers who aired the edited George Zimmerman 911 call, but argued that its reporting was protected by the First Amendment guarantee of press freedom, and also that Zimmerman was indeed a public figure when the recording aired.
Read the judge’s ruling in the George Zimmerman lawsuit in its entirety, below.