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NBC: Journalism or Distortion?

Sean has been saying journalism is dead. In this particular case he is referring to NBC News’ coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting. 911 Calls have been released of when George Zimmerman, Trayvon’s shooter, had called the police prior to his confrontation with Martin.

NBC News has been covering the story but eliminating some of the audio, arguably crossing the line of ethical journalism, given the cries of racism, bounties on Zimmerman's head, and celebrities trying to publicize Zimmerman's address so that retribution can be sought. Viewers watching NBC’s coverage will clearly see and hear George Zimmerman tell the 911 dispatcher that the kid looks “up to no good” and “looks black.” Those statements together can easily portray Zimmerman’s suspicion was racially motivated.

However, the full context of the phone call shows an entirely different mindset of Zimmerman. In the full audio, before race is discussed, Zimmerman says “there have been a lot of robberies” in his neighborhood recently, and he see’s a young kid who is wandering around suspiciously and “appears to be on drugs.”

Naturally after a series of crime sprees, residents are on high alert. That, taken with seeing someone who appears to be out of place and on drugs certainly would raise suspicion, regardless of race. However, even more important, is the fact that the dispatch is the one who asks what the teen is wearing and what race he is. Zimmerman may never have mentioned the race if he hadn’t have been asked by the authorities. Even after he is asked, Zimmerman says “he appears to be black” not only showing he wasn’t certain of the young man’s race, but additionally that it was not a factor in which led him to call the police in the first place.

Tell us what you think. Was NBC News’ handling of the phone call done with journalistic integrity, and does hearing both the shortened and long versions of Zimmerman’s phone call with the 911 dispatcher change your opinion?