As Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple wrote late yesterday, "apologies are hard." This was the case for Coca-Cola a few days ago as it shifted blame to an ad agency for a guerrilla graffiti campaign in New Orleans that broke city ordinances, and it's the case now for NBC, which offered a sketchy apology for a misleading edit of George Zimmerman's 911 call the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.
The edited audio, broadcast on NBC's Today, leaves a clear impression that Zimmerman was racially profiling Martin, whereas in the complete recording, he is responding to a direct question from the police dispatcher.
Here is NBC's apology, which Wemple published late yesterday: "During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret. We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers."
The unanswered question is whether this was a case of thoughtless audio editing or a case of an editorial decision being made to hammer home the point of view that Zimmerman was suspicious of Martin mostly because he was black. That's not a question that NBC is likely to answer anytime soon, but referring to the misleading edit as an "error" is a clear attempt at sidestepping responsibility, and doesn't do anybody any favors—especially NBC.
Calling it an error is similar to the all-too-common non-apology used when a high-profile individual says something particularly hurtful or ugly about a person or a segment of the population: "I apologize if my comments offended anybody in any way."
Here's the real message behind NBC's apology: "We're sorry we got caught up in this mess."
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