Dismissed! George Zimmerman libel lawsuit against NBC fizzles

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George Zimmerman during his trial. Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013.(Credit: YouTube, ABC News, screenshot)

George Zimmerman’s libel lawsuit against NBC has been dismissed.

Zimmerman sued NBC for libel in 2012 for doctoring his 911 call after his shooting of Trayvon Martin and for saying he used a racial epithet in the call.

The tape had been edited so that it said that when Zimmerman called 911, he offered Martin’s race to the operator. In fact, Zimmerman was responding to the 911 operator’s question about what race Martin was. (For details of how the tape was altered, see iMediaEthics’ 2012 report.) NBC fired at least two staff members over the incident and responded to the lawsuit saying they “fairly and accurately reported” on Zimmerman.

Florida Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson rejected the lawsuit in a summary judgment this morning, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Zimmerman didn’t “demonstrate that the editing choices at issue resulted in a materially false change in the meaning of what he actually said,” Nelson wrote, according to WESH TV.

Orlando TV news station WESH published the ruling.

The key element appears to be there wasn’t evidence of reckless disregard for the truth, which is necessary to prove libel given Zimmerman was, at that point, a public figure.

Judge Nelson ruled Zimmerman was a “limited purpose public figure” because of his 2010 public protest of the Sanford police department and his shooting of Martin.

“He voluntarily injected his views into the public controversy surrounding race relations and public safety in Sanford and pursued a course of conduct that ultimately led to the death of Martin and the specific controversy surrounding it.”

“Moreover, Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin rendered him a public figure in the ensuing controversy,” she added.

Judge Nelson’s summary judgment lists the criteria for successfully proving defamation as a public figure:

  1. False statements must be made
  2. The statements must be made to a third party
  3. The statements must have been made with actual malice
  4. The false statements must result in damages

Nelson explained why NBC didn’t meet that criteria: “There exists absolutely no clear and convincing evidence that defendants knew that the information published was false at the time it was published, or recklessly disregarded the truth or falsity of those statements.”

Zimmerman can appeal the ruling, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

iMediaEthics has written to NBC News for comment.

Hat Tip: Max News

UPDATE: 6/30/2014 12:04 PM EST Earlier this month, Judge Nelson dismissed a portion of Zimmerman’s lawsuit, the Associated Press reported.

“Zimmerman’s attorneys waited too long under Florida statute to ask NBC to retract what it claimed were libelous statements in a March 19, 2012 broadcast that they said made their client sound like a racist, Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled. Zimmerman was not at the hearing,” the AP wrote.

Orlando TV station News 13 added that in the June 19 hearing: “Nelson ruled Zimmerman could not continue to pursue damages against a reporter formerly with an NBC Miami station, because that reporter was not legally notified of the suit ahead of time.”

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Dismissed! George Zimmerman libel lawsuit against NBC fizzles

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