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Sarah Palin, doctored Trayvon Martin tape: Shame on NBC News

Does anyone at Comcast care about broadcast and journalistic standards?

By David Zurawik

The Baltimore Sun

9:41 PM EDT, April 3, 2012

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Does anyone in charge at NBC News have any sense of journalistic standards? How about any sense of shame?

I have been banging away at NBC News since at least the days of the suck-up White House interview the network's bowing anchorman, Brian Williams, did with President Obama.

You remember the one when they "spontaneously" went out for hamburgers in the middle of the day. (Loved the celebration of special correspondent Chelsea Clinton the last few months as well.)

But the double whammy this week is just too much for me to keep quiet – even though I’m on vacation.

First, the doctored 911 tape in which someone at NBC News edited out the question from a dispatcher in Sanford, Florida, asking George Zimmerman to identify the race of the teenager he was following on the night he ultimately shot Trayvon Martin.

It was edited by someone at NBC News so that when Zimmerman says "he looks black," it sounds as if he is injecting race, racial profiling and a connection between being “black” and being “up to no good,” into the tragic scenario, rather than factually answering a question.

Here's what the NBC News doctored tape had Zimmerman saying:

"This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black."

But here's what was really said without the edit:

Zimmerman: "This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about."

911 operator: "Okay. And this guy, is he white, black, or Hispanic?"

Zimmerman: "He looks black."

You don't need me to tell you the edit feels every bit as egregious as the sort of thing the late Andrew Breitbart did in a couple of infamous instances on his websites.

For the record, NBC News says it has been investigating the situation for two days now. Please.

In every newsroom I ever worked, management would have an answer to that kind of journalistic malfeasance within an hour.

This is a serious, serious offense that only further inflamed a situation already heated to the boiling point by another NBC News employee, MSNBC show host Al Sharpton, who has been leading rallies and threatening public officials in Florida if Zimmerman is not arrested.

(MSNBC flies under the NBC News banner. That's one reason NBC News employes like Chuck Todd have shows on the cable outlet.)

And then, there's Sarah Palin scheduled to co-host the “Today" show Tuesday morning."Today" is also a production of the glorious NBC News.

It's an election year, and Palin, the vice presidential candidate in 2008, has made it clear she is still hoping for enough chaos at the GOP convention to be considered a candidate. And NBC News is putting her on the air as a co-host of one of the highest rated shows on TV -- the highest-rated mainstream (oh, I'm sorry, Sarah, I mean lamestream) show on morning TV.

Talk about going out of your way to politicize and debase your journalistic brand.

Why in the world would you do it if you cared a lick about journalistic integrity – or respected the responsibility of the free press in a democracy to provide voters with information that they can trust?

Because ABC's"Good Morning America,"which has been closing the gap on "Today" in ratings, has Katie Couric co-hosting this week, and Couric is terrific in morning TV.

(Man, did she light up the screen Monday. That furrowed brow that defined her on the CBS Evening News was nowhere to be found; she absolutely dazzled.)

But, of course, as her former employer, NBC News can't let Couric and ABC News get away with that, even though Couric, who once owned morning TV for NBC, is now a legitimate employee of ABC News.

So, how can NBC News counter? I know, we'll have lock-and-load Sarah on Tuesday. Maybe she can track an elk through the superscope on her high-powered rifle and shoot it dead for viewer entertainment Tuesday morning  -- just like she did on her fabulous reality TV show on the slimebucket TLC channel. Top that, Katie.

(And don’t post any empty headed comments here about killing that animal for sport or meat. She did it for the entertainment of an audience sitting in front of their big flat screens eating nachos and looking for a new cheap TV thrill. And Alaska Annie delivered the sick, sick goods.)

That is the person NBC News chooses to cast its lot with Tuesday morning.

You know what? On second thought, this is perfect.  Stop whining, Zurawik. NBC News and Palin are made for each other.

Maybe they can make her a special correspondent on Brian Williams’ “Rock Center” magazine show – just like Chelsea Clinton.

UPDATE 9:27 p.m. Tuesday: After three days of an "investigation," NBC News apologized late Tuesday for airing the doctored 911 tape, which also ran on MSNBC. But the network news division neither explained how such an egregious incident took place nor said whether there would be consequences for anyone involved.

Here is what NBC News said in a statement sent to the Hollywood Reporter, according to that publication:

"During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret," NBC News said in a statement e-mailed to The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday. "We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers."
 
When asked if anyone at Today had lost their job or had been reassigned as a result of the investigation, an NBC spokeswoman said: "We will not be commenting on our course of action."

Read the Hollywood Reporter post here.