George Zimmerman's NBC Defamation Lawsuit Dismissed

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on July 01, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Florida court has dismissed a libel lawsuit against NBC filed by George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012.

In the suit, Zimmerman accused NBC of causing him to appear racist by editing the audio of a 911 call he made the night he shot Martin. The editing omitted a 911 operator's question to Zimmerman about Martin's race, making it appear that Zimmerman had brought up the topic himself. The network later admitted that it had edited the audio; it fired two employees and publicly apologized to Zimmerman, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

So why was Zimmerman's lawsuit tossed?

Defamation Basics

In his suit against NBC, Zimmerman claimed the manipulation of the audio recording was defamatory.

Defamation is the legal name for statements that harm someone's reputation. Written defamation (which also includes broadcast statements such as television) is considered libel, while spoken defamation is slander.

Generally, defamation requires a false statement that's communicated to a third party, causing injury (e.g., lost work or other harm to the person's reputation). The statement can't be privileged, such as testimony in a court of law.

'Public Figure' Standard

Unfortunately for Zimmerman, there are additional rules for defamation when the person bringing suit is a so-called "public figure." In this instance, by virtue of his newsworthiness and involvement in a very public debate, Zimmerman is considered a public figure; in order to bring a case for defamation, he has to show "actual malice."

Actual malice for the purposes of defamation does not require any sort of ill will, like malice does in criminal cases. Rather, it refers to the knowledge that a statement is false, or reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the statement.

In this case, Florida Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson found "no clear and convincing evidence that defendants knew that the information was false at the time it was published or recklessly disregarded the truth or falsity of those statements," the Sentinel reports

Although Zimmerman was acquitted of murder for killing Martin in 2013, he continues to be in the news. Earlier this year, Zimmerman's parents sued comedian Roseanne Barr for intentional infliction of emotional distress after she posted their home address on Twitter.

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