NBC's 'Rosemary Woods' defense of fired producer
NBC has fired the producer responsible for splicing together snippets from George Zimmerman's 911 call to make it appear that his shooting of Trayvon Martin was racially motivated.
NBC aired the edited tape on the Today Show. Media Decoder:
The segment in question was shown on the "Today" show on March 27. It included audio of Mr. Zimmerman saying, "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black."
But Mr. Zimmerman's comments had been taken grossly out of context by NBC. On the phone with a 911 dispatcher, he actually said of Mr. Martin, "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." Then the dispatcher asked, "O.K., and this guy - is he white, black or Hispanic?" Only then did Mr. Zimmerman say, "He looks black."
The network "apologized" for the "error" and then two days later, fired the producer of the segment.
Is there any way that the editing could be construed as an innocent mistake?
Inside NBC, there was shock that the segment had been broadcast. Citing an anonymous network executive, Reuters reported that "the 'Today' show's editorial control policies - which include a script editor, senior producer oversight and in most cases legal and standards department reviews of material to be broadcast - missed the selective editing of the call."
But one day later it dismissed a Miami-based producer who had worked at NBC for several years.
The people with direct knowledge of the firing characterized the misleading edit as a mistake, not a purposeful act.
Tom Maguire points out that NBC is virtually forced to say that the editing was a "mistake" because to admit to a deliberate act would leave them open to legal issues -- like a fat, juicy defamation suit from Zimmerman.
Still, NBC's defense is reminiscent of the explanation given by Rosemary Woods, President Nixon's personal secretary, for the infamous 18 1/2 minute gap in a taped conversation in the Oval Office from June 20, 1972.
Woods' explanation was, to put it mildly, incredible. Using a machine known as a dictaphone -- an audio playback device controlled by foot pedals -- she told an incredulous Judge Sirica how at least part of the gap occurred:
While playing the tape on a Uher 5000, she answered a phone call. Reaching for the Uher 5000 stop button, she said that she mistakenly hit the button next to it, the record button. For the duration of the phone call, about 5 minutes, she kept her foot on the device's pedal, causing a five-minute portion of the tape to be re-recorded. When she listened to the tape, the gap had grown to 18½ minutes and later insisted that she was not responsible for the remaining 13 minutes of buzz.
Below is a famous photo of what reporters cynically referred to as "the Rosemary Stretch":
An investigation later showed there were at least 5 and perhaps as many as 9 separate erasures. Recent efforts to recover the lost portion of that tape have met with no success, but audio experts say that one day, it is likely they will be able to recover most if not all of the conversation that day between Nixon and Halderman on Watergate. (Alexander Haig has speculated that Nixon himself inadvertently might have erased some of the tape, given his well known clumsiness with anything mechanical.)
So what are the chances that a "script editor, senior producer oversight and in most cases legal and standards department review" would have missed this blatant attempt to portray Zimmerman as a racist? The idea cannot be entirely dismissed. It sounds counterintuitive but having been around TV news for decades, I know that there are times that it isn't so much the content of a segment, but rather the technical aspects of audio quality, the time allotted, editing, and just plain laziness that can cause errors. Perhaps not as egregiously obvious as this one -- which makes me believe it was indeed, deliberate -- but sloppiness and haste are a deadly combination and that's why it is not impossible that airing the recording was a mistake, and not an attempt to affect the narrative in the Martin shooting.
NBC needs to clear the air on this matter. If not, they always have the "Rosemary Woods Defense" to fall back on.