Miami Rep. Frederica Wilson angled for another 15 minutes of fame this week, claiming that in his consoling call to a Gold Star widow President Trump insulted the woman and trivialized her husband’s death.
When it comes to racially inflammatory accusations, Wilson has a history. So does NBC, which happily spread the Trump “insults the widow” story.
NBC has come under particular fire from Trump in the past few weeks for its propagation of “fake news,” and Trump does not know the half of it.
In March 2012, Wilson and NBC came together to spread one of the most consequential fake news stories of recent time.
NBC was reporting on the shooting of Trayvon Martin in late February. Its editors had access to the call George Zimmerman made to a police dispatcher in Sanford, Florida. The call went like this:
GZ: 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.
SPD: OK, and this guy – is he black, white or Hispanic?
GZ: He looks black.
SPD: Did you see what he was wearing?
GZ: Yeah, a dark hoodie, like a gray hoodie. He wore jeans or sweat pants and white tennis shoes.
NBC edited this clip down to the following:
GZ: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.
SPD: Did you see what he was wearing?
GZ: Yeah, a dark hoodie.
After the editors at NBC got through with him, Zimmerman appeared to have focused exclusively on Martin’s race and hoodie.
They had to know how guilty this edit made Zimmerman appear. Martin’s very blackness would seem to have caused Zimmerman, a civil rights activist and Obama supporter, to think him suspicious.
On March 27, 2012, NBC’s Ron Allen exposed this edit to the full light of day on a “Today” show feature.
Allen, who is himself black, led with the abridged quote, both in audio and in text. Then, while explaining the case, Allen and his producer showed two innocent photos of Martin taken years earlier, this despite the availability of the more recent hoodie photo of the 6-foot Martin.
Allen then played a more subtly dismembered excerpt from Zimmerman’s exchange with the SPD dispatcher, again with both text and audio:
SPD: Are you following him?
SPD: OK. We don’t need you to do that.
Left on the editing room floor was Zimmerman’s response to the dispatcher’s request, “OK.”
Almost all the news features on this angle edited out the “OK.” In fact, Zimmerman took the dispatcher’s advice and stopped following Martin.
Those who watched NBC would have thought otherwise. Wild-eyed partisans like Frederica Wilson, she of the pink cowboy hats and Trump insults, certainly did.
Later that same day, it was Wilson who famously ranted, “Trayvon was hunted down like a rabid dog. He was shot in the street. He was racially profiled.”
For all her hyperbole, everything Wilson said tracked with what she could have heard on NBC. In reality, however, it was Martin who did the hunting.
Little of what Allen reported was actually true. He claimed, for instance, that the case drew national attention only after the 911 tapes were released, but in fact Reuters had reported on the story nearly two weeks earlier, and Al Sharpton was fully on board a week or so before the tapes were released.
Allen then paraphrased Martin’s parents as saying, “Police accepted Zimmerman’s statements at the scene as fact and never gathered any more evidence that might reveal what really happened then.”
Allen had to know this was not close to accurate. What persuaded the Sanford PD to release Zimmerman were the key witness statements that corroborated his own testimony.
The audience was not allowed to know this. Allen let the parents’ sentiments stand uncorrected. Curiously, the piece closed with Zimmerman’s uncut audio – without text – airing over some crime scene video. The last thing the audience heard was Zimmerman saying, “He looks black.”
The die was cast. A trial followed. Zimmerman was sure to be acquitted and was. The Black Lives Matter movement formed as a result of that acquittal.
In the poetic justice department, Harvey Weinstein purchased the rights to the astonishingly dishonest book written on the Zimmerman case by NBC legal analyst Lisa Bloom.
The rest is history.