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George Zimmerman Sues NBC, Says He's A Victim Of 'Yellow Journalism'

Former Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman says NBC Universal's editorial decisions made him look like a racist when the network covered the shooting and killing of teenager Trayvon Martin.

He's filed a lawsuit in Florida, alleging NBC saw the shooting "not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain." His main example is the 911 call he placed on Feb. 26 to authorities just before the shooting occurred. Zimmerman says NBC altered his conversation with the dispatcher.

The complaint alleges the first altered call that NBC aired on March 29 included these statements, in which Zimmerman described Martin:

"Zimmerman: There is a real suspicious guy. Ah, this guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something. He looks black."
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Zimmerman: Yeah.
Dispatcher: Ok we don't need you to do that."

On March 20, the complaint alleges NBC changed Zimmerman's remarks to this:

"Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good or on drugs or something. He's got his hand in his waistband. And he's a black male.
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Zimmerman: Yeah.
Dispatcher: Okay, we don't need you to do that."

The suit claims the audio had several deletions, and about a minute of conversation was ultimately taken out. Zimmerman alleges some dialogue was also moved around to create the false impression that he had a racist motive.

The lawsuit says the conversation Zimmerman had with the dispatcher actually 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 white, black or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black."

Zimmerman and his attorneys say NBC practiced 'yellow journalism' and has never apologized to him for trying to paint Zimmerman as a hostile racist who targeted Martin because of his race. The suit points out that Zimmerman has since faced death threats that force him to live in hiding and wear a bullet proof vest.

NBC News says its parent company released a statement, saying "We strongly disagree with the accusations made in the complaint. There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly. We intend to vigorously defend our position in court."

On its blog, NBC says on April 3, it apologized for the edited call saying it 'deeply regrets' the 'error'. It adds that NBC fired three employees involved in the reporting who also worked for a local NBC station. Two of the dismissed employees are also named in Zimmerman's lawsuit, which also names NBC reporter Ron Allen as a defendant.

But Zimmerman's complaint says NBC's flawed reporting left an 'indelible image of Zimmerman stalking Martin because "he looks black"'. And he claims NBC incorrectly reported that he used a racial epithet to refer to Martin when talking to the dispatcher; he says NBC wanted to encourage an investigation of Zimmerman on federal hate crimes charges to give the network 'further material for sensational reporting.'

Zimmerman will go on trial June 10 on second-degree murder charges in the slaying of Trayvon Martin.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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