(George Skene / Orlando Sentinel…)
Murder suspect George Zimmerman has sued media giant NBCUniversal for defamation, alleging the company and its reporters tried to create a "racial powder-keg" by manipulating a tape of Zimmerman's 911 call to authorities on the night of Trayvon Martin's death.
At issue is the editing of the 911 tape, broadcast by NBC in March, several weeks after the deadly confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman at Zimmerman's gated complex in Sanford, Fla.
Three current and former NBC employees also were named in the lawsuit. Two South Florida reporters identified, who worked for NBC's Miami station and were covering the story, were terminated following the controversial broadcasts of the edited 911 call tapes, the suit said.
The complaint did not specify the amount of damages that Zimmerman, who has been charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting, was seeking.
In the edited audio, Zimmerman is heard telling a police dispatcher that the 17-year-old Martin, who was visiting family members in Zimmerman's complex, "looks like he's up to no good. He looks black."
However, Zimmerman was responding to the dispatcher's question of whether Martin was "white, black or Hispanic."
Zimmerman replied, "He looks black."
The lawsuit said the NBC reporters removed 46 seconds of dialogue between Zimmerman and the dispatcher to create an impression that Zimmerman was suspicious of Martin's conduct because Martin was black.
"NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings," said the 24-page lawsuit, filed Thursday in Seminole County, Fla.
The media frenzy over Martin's death has "forced Zimmerman to live in hiding, wear a bullet-proof vest, and suffer other permanent and severe emotional injuries," the suit said. "Zimmerman's reputation is destroyed."
Zimmerman's suit alleged that NBC's "goal was simple: keep their viewers alarmed, an thus always watching, by menacing them with a reprehensible series of imaginary and exaggerated racist claims."
NBC News chief Steve Capus previously has said the network made a mistake in the editing of the tapes. NBCUniversal on Thursday took issue with the lawsuit's characterizations.
“We strongly disagree with the accusations made in the complaint. There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly," NBCUniversal said in a statement Thursday night. "We intend to vigorously defend our position in court.”
Orlando Sentinel reporter Susan Jacobson contributed to this report.
George Zimmerman offers to sign thank-you cards to raise money
"Today" show shake-up; Jim Bell moves to sports
George Zimmerman to seek stand-your-ground defense