Misleading audio clips and media transparency

by Walter Olson on April 13, 2012

In one of the standout instances of media misconduct during the run-up to the recent furor, NBC repeatedly aired, on “Today” and other shows, audio footage misleadingly edited so as to advance the proposition that George Zimmerman was suspicious of Trayvon Martin because of his race [Erik Wemple, Washington Post] While announcing that it had fired the unnamed producer it considered responsible, NBC was less than forthcoming about other details of the scandal, which — as Mickey Kaus points out — may have had a lot to do with its lawyers’ concerns about minimizing a possible defamation payout: “Like other tort laws, libel laws are in practice the enemy of transparency.”

Some have recalled the scandal in which “Dateline NBC” aired footage of supposedly exploding GM cars that in fact had been rigged with incendiary devices. But I’m actually more put in mind of a less celebrated media disgrace from the same era, the Texaco Tapes pseudo-scandal, in which (as I recount here) the New York Times and other outlets avidly promoted systematic misreadings of audiotapes in a hotly disputed racial-bias case, and failed to engage in adequate (or, really, any) soul-searching when the misreadings came to be exposed. In the Martin/Zimmerman case the questionable audio readings included the “two-shot” account influentially advanced by the New York Times when the case first broke nationally, and the supposed racial slur which dominated coverage for a couple of days before being (if the prosecutor’s affidavit is any indication) discreetly laid to rest.

More: Speaking of the New York Times, you have to wonder whether that paper has some sort of stylebook rule requiring it to keep misreporting what Stand Your Ground laws do [Jacob Sullum, more, earlier] And Tom Maguire notes that the paper’s latest editorial appear to be backing off its earlier assertions that the Zimmerman case will hinge on the state’s curtailing of the old “duty to retreat”: “The duty to retreat evidently extends to Times editors.” He also wonders whether, on the much-discussed question of whether Zimmerman flouted the advice of a 911 operator, the NYT editorialists read their own paper. Yet more: Maguire collects the media myths.

I have a new post at Cato rounding up many of my recent writings and broadcast appearances on the subject, under the title, “Why Is Press Coverage of the Martin/Zimmerman Case So Bad?”

{ 1 comment }

1 Jesse Spurway 04.13.12 at 11:09 am

I won’t be making up my mind until Nancy Grace and Greta Van Susteren tell me what to think.
I must be different because my question is “Why Is There Press Coverage of Martin/Zimmerman?”. Folks kill each other everyday for the darnest reasons.

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