Altering the Zimmerman Tape

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

NBC apologizes for doctoring the 911 tapes so as to make it seem that Zimmerman raised Trayvon Martin's skin color for no real reason. The NBC tape made the conversation sound like this:


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

The actual conversation went like this:

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. 

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy -- is he black, white or Hispanic? 

Zimmerman: He looks black.

This is a little too cute to write off as unconscious mistake. Moreover, as my old boss Erik Wemple reports, there's no real explanation in NBC's apology. Unconscious or not, altering the tape in this way was incredibly unfair to Zimmerman, and incredibly stupid for NBC. How did they not think they would be caught? The real tape is out there. 

Something about this case causes people to lose their heads.Wemple has it right here:

Nor does [NBC's statement] articulate an apology directly to George Zimmerman, the "viewer" who is most aggrieved by the screw-up. In light of all that's happened, Zimmerman may be a tough person for a news network to apologize to, but that's just the point: Apologies are hard.

Exactly. You don't simply get to behave professionally toward people who are sympathetic. Professionalism isn't a courtesy, it's a self-interest.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/04/altering-the-zimmerman-tape/255433/