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George Zimmerman is in the news again. This time it is for a lawsuit Zimmerman filed against NBC Universal and two reporters for defamation and libel. Rejecting the Zimmerman suit against NBC, a Florida judge ruled in favor of the media company and granted their motion to deny the case.
Zimmerman sued NBC in December 2012 for allegedly distorting facts and editing the content of his 911 call in such a way that it made his shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin appear motivated by racial bias. Zimmerman’s lawsuit stated that the news channel’s straightforward goal was to use editing in such a way so as to keep its viewers on edge and watching the channel. Zimmerman claimed that using exaggerated and imaginary stories of racism kept the news watchers entranced, thus increasing NBC’s viewership.
The lawsuit specifically attacked NBC for misrepresentation of the 911 conversation, wherein Zimmerman said he was answering the dispatcher’s questions when he said that Martin looked like he was up to no good and that the teenager ‘looked’ black. The litigant also objected to NBC reporters’ description that he used a racial slur to identify Martin. He has sued the news company for the broadcasts, which he claims made his seem like a racist and exposed him to public ridicule and threats. He was seeking damages for emotional distress and mental anguish.
On Monday, Debra Nelson, a Florida circuit court judge dismissed the case in a final judgment that will not let Zimmerman go further with the lawsuit. According to the judge, for Zimmerman to prevail in his lawsuit, he would have to show that the news media outlet had acted with “actual malice,” a legal standard that means knowledge or reckless disregard of falsity. And since the lawsuit did not meet those standards, he could not pursue any defamation charges as a matter of law, according to the sitting judge.
Judge Nelson found that Zimmerman had spoken the words, which were attributed to him by NBC reporters and that the news broadcast were accurate in nature and gist of what he had said. Denying that there was anything false or conjured in any material sense, the judge said that NBC’s editing choices could not be held as being motivated by actual malice and the published material did not alter what was actually said and meant by the plaintiff.
Focusing on the use of the “racial epithet” in the conversation with the dispatcher, the judge found the “tape recording itself is, at best, ambiguous,” which meant that the news reporters’ interpretation and broadcast of that material could not support any claims of actual malice, either.
An NBC spokesperson for the network’s news division welcomed the ruling and said that they always believed that the case lacked merit.
Zimmerman shot to national infamy and became a controversial public figure after he shot and killed 17-year-old Martin in Sanford, Florida in February 2012. On the night in question, Zimmerman had followed Martin as he walked home from a nearby convenience store. Zimmerman claimed that he had found the teenager’s behavior suspicious in a way that warranted watching. When the young unarmed teenager became aware of Zimmerman, an altercation occurred, which resulted in the fatal shooting of Martin.
As the killing and the subsequent events generated much conversation about self-defense, gun control and race, Zimmerman continuously claimed to be innocent. After a much-watched legal trial that was marred with controversies and criticisms, Zimmerman was acquitted last year for Martin’s shooting. The jury accepted Zimmerman’s claim that he had acted in self-defense.
While Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges against him in 2013, his latest entanglement with the law was not as successful. Rejecting his legal suit against NBC, Judge Nelson’s judgment put a full stop in the case, unless an appeals court reverses the ruling.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay