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George Zimmerman sues NBC Universal over edited 911 call

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 9:55 AM EST, Fri December 7, 2012
A photo posted online Monday, December 3, shows George Zimmerman with blood on his nose and lips. His attorneys say it was taken the night unarmed teen Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, 28, faces second-degree murder charges in the death of Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. Other evidence photos were released earlier this year: A photo posted online Monday, December 3, shows George Zimmerman with blood on his nose and lips. His attorneys say it was taken the night unarmed teen Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, 28, faces second-degree murder charges in the death of Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. Other evidence photos were released earlier this year:
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: There was "no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly," the network says
  • George Zimmerman accuses NBC Universal of 'the oldest form of yellow journalism'
  • NBC made Zimmerman 'one of the most hated men in America,' the suit says
  • Zimmerman is charged in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17

(CNN) -- George Zimmerman, charged in the shooting death of a 17-year-old Florida boy, is suing NBC Universal for using "the oldest form of yellow journalism" by editing an audio tape of his 911 call to make him sound racist, the lawsuit says.

Zimmerman is seeking "damages in excess of the jurisdictional limit" in Seminole County Circuit Court in Florida, where the lawsuit was filed Thursday.

Zimmerman, who is Hispanic and is charged with second-degree murder, is accused of fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, who was African-American. The February incident has provoked national controversy.

Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense. Attorneys for Martin's family say the teen was shot and killed "in cold blood."

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"NBC 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 lawsuit says.

"Because of NBC's deceptive and exploitative manipulations, the public wrongly believes that Zimmerman 'use(d) a racial epithet' while describing Martin during the call to the dispatcher on that fateful night," the suit says.

NBC Universal disputed the accusations Friday.

"There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly," the company said in a prepared statement. "We intend to vigorously defend our position in court."

The defamation lawsuit accuses the network of sensationalizing and manipulating a potential "racial powder keg that would result in months, if not years, of topics for their failing news program, particularly the plummeting ratings for their ailing Today Show."

The edited recordings included multiple deletions, removed intervening dialogue between Zimmerman and the dispatcher, and juxtaposed unrelated content "to make it appear that Zimmerman was a racist, and that he was racially profiling Trayvon Martin," the lawsuit says.

NBC aired various edited versions of the 911 call on March 19, 20, 22 and 27, the suit says.

The suit accuses the network of malice, highlighting correspondent Ron Allen's segment on "The Today Show" on March 27.

Timeline of events in case

"Allen's broadcast removed a critical aspect of the dialogue between Zimmerman and the dispatcher, bringing the 'up to no good' and 'he looks black' statements even closer together, to further the false and defamatory implication that Zimmerman had said he believed Martin was 'up to no good' because 'he looks black,'" the suit says.

The lawsuit accuses NBC of falsely claiming that Zimmerman said "f------ coons" on the February 26 call.

"The truth, as known to the defendants, was that Zimmerman said 'f------ punks' and there was no evidence, or reason to believe, that Zimmerman uttered a racial epithet during the call," the suit says.

Zimmerman mentioned Martin's race only when prompted by the dispatcher, the suit says.

NBC never aired an "earnest" retraction and never apologized to Zimmerman, who has since experienced death threats, a bounty on his head and a genuine fear for his life, the suit says. He now lives in hiding, court documents say.

NBC News President Steve Capus "made a bogus non-apology that claimed the doctoring was merely a 'mistake,'" the suit says.

Because of the death threats, Zimmerman wears a bulletproof vest and was even dismissed from his college because it felt fellow students could be endangered, the lawsuit says. At the time of the incident with Martin, Zimmerman was living in a community known as The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida, court papers say.

"Due to the defendants' journalistic crimes, Zimmerman has been transformed into one of the most hated men in America," the suit says.

Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, told "In Session's" Jean Casarez that NBC tried "to get ahead of the curve coverage thinking that they had themselves a person who was a racist, and they were wrong."

The suit also names as defendants Lilia Rodriguez Luciano of Dade County, Florida, who was reporting directly from Sanford. Her employment was terminated by NBC as a result of her reporting, the suit says.

Also named as a defendant is Jeffrey Burnside of Dade County, another journalist who was reporting from Sanford to his station, NBC-owned WTVJ in Miami, the suit says. Burnside was also fired by NBC, the suit said.

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