George Zimmerman Sues NBC Over Edits

George Zimmerman, the man facing criminal charges relating from the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is about to see the civil side of the law. His lawyers announced on Thursday that they filed a defamation suit against NBC related to a report it ran on the incident. Zimmerman claims that NBC edited audio from Zimmerman’s 911 call the night of the shooting to make it sound like he said: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” I can’t say this filing comes as a shock. While it is important to reserve judgment on Zimmerman’s criminal case, as well as on this new civil case, if Zimmerman can prove that the audio was intentionally edited, NBC is going to have a tough time. The suit also names as defendants three reporters involved in the story – Ron Allen, Lilia Luciano and Jeffrey Burnside. Zimmerman makes a pretty large point of the fact that that Luciano and Burnside were fired following the reports. It will be interesting to see if the court treats Zimmerman as a “public figure.” That matters because under the First Amendment, public figures have to demonstrate that the defendant made the statement knowing it was false or in “reckless disregard” of the falsity. From reading the complaint, it looks like Zimmerman anticipates he’ll be deemed a public figure. Given that his lawyers have created three Web sites dedicated Zimmerman’s legal issues, he’d probably have a tough time claiming he’s a private citizen. NBC has a tough track record with high profile crimes. It paid Richard Jewell $500,000 to settle claims that Jewell brought against the network relating to its reporting on his alleged involvement in the Atlanta Olympic bombing. Can anyone say “déjà vu”?