The Buzz

NBC's Halfhearted Correction

By now just about everyone knows of the “Today” show’s egregious editing of the audio clip of George Zimmerman’s expressions on the 911 call, just before he shot to death Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

“Today” version: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good….he looks black.”

Real version: “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: “Okay, and this guy—is he white, black or Hispanic?” Zimmerman, after a pause: “He looks black.”

David Carr, in his New York Times media column on April 23, calls this “the trifecta of being misleading, incendiary and dead-bang wrong.” And he notes that NBC took the matter seriously, firing the producer in charge and issuing an apology.

But he also notes that NBC never corrected the record on the “Today” show itself, as newspapers do in their columns when they get something wrong. Indeed, he adds, broadcast outlets almost never issue corrections or amplifications directed at the actual regular audiences of the particular programs where the errors appeared.

So he called Steve Capus, NBC News president, to “do battle over the lack of on-air remediation.” Expecting a defensive response, he honed all his arguments beforehand.

But Capus didn’t argue. “You’re probably right,” he said, adding the network was so fixated on handling the matter internally and dealing with media inquiries that the idea of issuing a correction on “Today” slipped by. Carr credits Capus’s explanation. He says NBC deserves “credit for dealing with a big error that threatened to sow further mayhem on a very delicate story.” But it’s “too bad,” he adds, that the network missed the reality that “the fix for bad journalism generally includes more journalism. The kind that goes on the air.” He quotes Arizona State professor and former CNN anchor Aaron Brown as saying he was “shocked” that no on-air correction was forthcoming.

Carr’s column may or may not influence the networks’ future behavior when corrections are needed, but the columnist provided a smart look at an important question.