Zimmerman Sues NBC for Libel

Posted December 12, 2012 in Criminal Law Litigation by

George Zimmerman’s legal team said in October that they planned to sue NBC over its airing of an edited version of the call he made to 911 after shooting and killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. And on Dec. 6, they made good on the threat, filing a lawsuit for defamation against the network and three of its reporters.


New Lawyer, New Website, Same Attitude 

Mark O’Mara now has help: Zimmerman has added Jim Beasley, a Philadelphia trial lawyer and stunt pilot, to his legal team, and they’ve launched yet another website – this one dedicated to the libel action against NBC.

In keeping with his defense team’s aggressive approach to combating negative publicity surrounding Zimmerman after his killing of Martin in February of 2012, his new website proclaims that “we intend on disputing misinformation with the same publicity and vigor that it was originally spread by NBC.”

And right out of the gate, they make good on that promise as well. “NBC News saw the death of Trayvon Martin 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,” reads the complaint’s first sentence.


Dicey Splicing

Zimmerman’s suit focuses on NBC’s splicing together of two of his responses to the 911 dispatcher that makes it seem like he is volunteering the race of Martin. In actuality, he is only answering the dispatcher’s question about Martin’s race.

Zimmerman also complains that NBC reported that he had used a racial epithet to describe Martin during that call. But instead of the “f___ coons” epithet NBC allegedly said he used, Zimmerman only used the term “f___ punks.”

Two of the three reporters he is suing have since been fired by the network.

“The network committed a serious error in the
 editing of the 911 audiotape,” says George Washington School of Law Professor Jonathan Turley in a recent blog post.


Public Figure, and Possibly ‘Libel-Proof’

Professor Jonathan Turley

Turley explains that since Zimmerman will likely be considered a “public figure” for defamation law purposes, he will have to meet the higher burden of proving that NBC acted with “actual malice” instead of mere negligence.

“It is truly hard to see how a ‘mistake’ like that could occur without malice, but at best it was gross negligence,” Turley opines. “It certainly, in my view, raises a legitimate defamation claim.”

There is also the chance that Zimmerman’s fame could be his lawsuit’s undoing. NBC could defend the case by claiming that Zimmerman is such a creep that he should qualify as a “libel-proof” plaintiff, points out Turley.

His complaint does admit that “Zimmerman has been transformed into one of the most hated men in America.”

“NBC could argue that . . . he is now so without a good reputation that he is effectively libel proof,” Turley says. “If so, the court would have to find that Zimmerman’s reputation was already so damaged that he cannot recover more than nominal damages for subsequent defamatory statements.”

But, adds Turley, “this is a relatively rare basis for a dismissal and the plaintiff has to be akin to a Charles Manson.”


Do you think Zimmerman is libel-proof? Or should he be able to successfully sue NBC for libel?

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