The News vs. The Newsroom: Yes, NBC Did Alter George Zimmerman's 911 Call

Comparing the HBO series' depictions of Tyler Clementi's suicide, the Trayvon Martin shooting, and Rush Limbaugh's comments about contraception to what really happened
neal newsroom ep 5.jpg
HBO
How does The Newsroom's version of news events from 18 months ago fit in with the way those events really unfolded in the media? Not always perfectly—but not always incorrectly, either. Here's how the fifth episode of Aaron Sorkin's HBO series' second season compares to the real-life news coverage of the time period it portrays.

The Newsroom: On March 16, an audio tape of George Zimmerman's call to the Sanford Police just before he shot Trayvon Martin is released to the media. Mackenzie asks Jim to cut the four minutes and seven seconds of audio down to a 20- to 25-second clip to put on the air.

Just after the hastily edited segment airs, Neal points out that Maggie's editing has left out a crucial question that the police officer asked Zimmerman—about Martin's race. Maggie delivers the news to a very dismayed Charlie and Mackenzie, then they air the 911 call in its entirety at the end of the show.

The news: In 2012, NBC made the same move ACN did. On Today, an edited segment about the Trayvon Martin case, producers aired a clip of the phone call that deleted the dispatcher's question, "Was he black, white, or Hispanic?"

Other news sources called out NBC's "error" as a dangerous, perhaps-intentional inaccuracy: Creating the illusion that Zimmerman brought up Martin's race unprompted—and directly after stating that he seemed to be "up to no good"—could help confirm suspicions that the shooting was racially motivated. 

"What we're seeing today in the mainstream media has passed well beyond simple incompetence and bias," " said Bill Whittle, host of Trifecta on the conservative/libertarian web TV network PJTV. "What we're seeing now, in my opinion, is actual, criminal negligence on the part of major news outlets. And nowhere is this clearer than in the example of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case.

"I've been an editor for eight years and I know that you don't make a pull-out like that to save four seconds and distort the meaning by accident."

NBC apologized; Zimmerman later sued.


The Newsroom: In mid-March of 2012, Rush Limbaugh calls Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" on his radio show after Fluke speaks at a hearing on whether insurance should include a birth-control mandate. Hallie adds her voice to the feminist uproar by writing a column about it. After reading it, Maggie remarks, "Tell you what column I'd write. 'What's wrong with sluts?'"

A slut, she goes on to explain, is just "a woman who has a lot of casual sex with different guys. Why isn't that good as long as everybody's safe?" Maggie says to Jim. "The country's divided into people who like sex and people who are utterly creeped out by it," Maggie says to Jim. "I'm one of the sex people. And I'm sure we're in the majority, and I'm tired of having to make a public bow to the minority by pretending I'm not really into sex."

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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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