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Jeff Burnside, a special projects reporter at WTVJ, was fired from the South Florida NBC O&O last Friday after it was determined he selectively edited audio of George Zimmerman’s 911 call in the Trayvon Martin case. Two weeks ago, a Miami-based NBC News producer lost her job in a similar situation, using an almost identical, sloppily-edited 911 call related to the Martin/Zimmerman case.
In a report on the 5pm newscast in mid-March, Burnside used the following audio of Zimmerman’s 911 call:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. He looks black.
The full audio of the 911 tape reveals Zimmerman was asked about Martin’s race by the dispatcher, which Burnside left out:
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.
“We take this incident very seriously and apologize to our viewers,” a spokesperson for the NBC O&Os tells TVSpy. “After conducting an extensive investigation, we are putting a more stringent editorial process in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
It is plausible the “Today” show producer happened upon Burnside’s story in a shared file. Beyond that, the spokesperson said the WTVJ incident is not related to the NBC News editing imbroglio.
In fact, the two stories aired a week apart: WTVJ’s on March 19 and the “Today” show’s on March 27. And, despite both occurring in South Florida, WTVJ’s facility is in Miramar while the NBC News bureau is in downtown Miami. The final “Today” show story also kept out the words, Or he’s on drugs or something.
WTVJ is currently looking to hire an assistant news director, which will add an additional layer of editorial oversight, the spokesperson says. The station recently brought on a new GM and news director.