Judge throws out Zimmerman defamation suit against NBC

For those who don't remember what NBC did, here is a refresher.
The investigation came after Fox News and others pointed out that the network spliced two parts of the call together, making it appear as if Zimmerman had said, "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black." In reality, Zimmerman was answering a dispatcher's question:
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 black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
The problem with defamation cases against public figures is that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant "knowingly" made a false statement.  NBC in this case could just argue that they made a mistake.  It is very difficult to prove that someone knowingly and deliberately made a false statement.

As the statement from the judge makes clear (from the Erik Wemple blog at the Washington Post):
“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,” wrote Judge Debra S. Nelson, according to the Sentinel’s account. She also pushed aside contentions in Zimmerman’s complaint that he suffered emotional distress as a result of the NBC News reports. . . . .
This decision doesn't mean that NBC acted correctly.  It just means that Zimmerman couldn't prove to at least this judge satisfaction that they purposely edited the tape to make him look bad.  It isn't a question of what the edit did, but it is a question of proving intent.



Blogger Patrick Sullivan said...

Shouldn't the question of what the evidence shows be answered by a jury? If we want to talk about a lack of clear and convincing evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, then she should have tossed the criminal case in the first place.

Judge Debra should have recused herself, as she's got a dog in this fight. I remember once during the trial when she looked at the prosecutors and plaintively said something like, 'I have to rule for them (the defense), or else they can appeal.'

7/03/2014 12:35 PM  

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