In an astonishing admission, Miamis NBC6 has acknowledged the local affiliate made the same questionable edits to George Zimmermans call to police that were widely attacked when the network aired a similarly misleading clip on the Today
show last month.
Jeff Burnside, a 13-year veteran of the local WTVJ station, was fired Friday and two other employees were disciplined, The Miami Herald confirmed. Unlike the Today show, NBC6 aired a correction and apology during its Wednesday evening newscasts.
The controversy started last month, when the Today
show aired a segment on the call Zimmerman made to police the night he encountered a Miami Gardens teenager he found suspicious. This guy looks like hes up to no good. He looks black, Zimmerman said on the Today
But the unedited version of the call showed that before Zimmerman mentioned Trayvon Martins race, the police operator asked him, Is he black, white or Hispanic? Conservative blogs skewered the networks March 22 and 27 blunders, calling them a deliberate misrepresentation aimed at keeping the Zimmerman-is-a-racist narrative alive.
But even as the network apologized, bloggers also revealed that the audio slicing took place at least three times in Miami on March 19 and 20. NBC6s web version of the story showed the quote included ellipses, suggesting that something had been trimmed.
We take this incident very seriously and apologize to our viewers, said WTVJ spokesman Matt Glassman. After conducting an extensive investigation, we are putting a more stringent editorial process in place to ensure this does not happen again.
Glassman stressed that the Today
show and Miami edits took place in two separate incidents involving different people.
The Miami error underscores how time-crunched journalists work may go on the air without any supervision. The Miami piece aired without a manager reviewing it, a station source said.
Now the station is expected to hire an assistant news director and add more editing layers.
A Miami-based network producer was fired for the Today
show gaffe, and several more were disciplined. Glassman declined to name any of the disciplined local journalists involved in the Today
incident, except to say that the person who lost his job at WTVJ was the one who directed the edits.
Burnside declined to discuss what happened.
This is obviously very, very complicated, he told The Miami Herald. I have nothing but good things to say about the NBC6 family.
Burnside, 52, won several regional Emmy awards and was known for his investigative reports and coverage of environmental issues. Named Top TV Reporter by the New Times in 2007, he is on the board of directors of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Conservative media critic Brent Bozell called him a fall guy.
I dont like fall guys, said Bozell, whose Media Research Center publishes newsbusters.org. If people were overworked and having a bad menopausal day Ill buy that once. I wont buy that twice.
He stressed that NBC contradicted itself when it suggested the edits were innocent mistakes by producers pressed to squeeze as much information into a story and then turned around and fired those responsible.
If it was an innocent mistake, why fire them? he said. Whats going on over there? ... I dont believe it was a bad judgment call to save time. Its a mindset.
Zimmerman, who faces second-degree murder charges for shooting Trayvon, could sue the station for defamation, Bozell said.
He noted that the same error was not made at MSNBC, which employs Rev. Al Sharpton, a protagonist in the Trayvon Martin rallies. MSNBC has been widely criticized for allowing the controversial civil rights leader to simultaneously play journalist and activist.
The network is very sensitive about the whole Al Sharpton/MSNBC issue, so when the right-wing bloggers started hammering, they needed to throw them fresh meat, said the station source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the controversy. Its not at all clear how this happened. Obviously, there was miscommunication.