Sandra Osterman Testimony Censored in Latest CNN Blunder


In the most recent phase of the George Zimmerman trial, Sandra Osterman, a long-time friend of Zimmerman, was called to the stand to identify his voice in a series of 911 calls. The call featured some profane language which CNN took the liberty to censor, along with half of the recording. This, unfortunately, eliminated any chance of CNN's viewers to determine whether or not the recording helped or hindered the theories of racism in Zimmerman's actions. The profane phrase "fucking punks" was later repeated by the defense attorney Mark O'Mara, which fortunately allowed the CNN audience to hear Zimmerman's words, but not in Zimmerman's voice. Why censor it in the first place? More broadly, why does CNN keep making confusing, ill-informed choices in its news coverage?

The censorship blunder is more detrimental than it seems. The Zimmerman case is full of racial undertones as Zimmerman's feelings toward African-Americans have been an important piece of the trial's puzzle. The 911 calls were one way the prosecution sought to reveal Zimmerman's feelings toward the "fucking punks" or "assholes who always get away" (the other censored phrase). The vital portion of Osterman's testimony, and the focus of the prosecution, was that Zimmerman had no "ill-will" or "spite" for these individuals, and that it was just an "off-hand way of referring to them." However, it is quite difficult for the audience to determine such subjective things if the content is censored.

Despite the failure to properly censor the material, the situation certainly poses an important question: can (or should) networks modify or censor court proceedings? According to the FCC, profanity must be restricted to certain hours where children wouldn't be viewing. However, court proceedings seem to be an area of protection under the First Amendment, otherwise the coverage would be faulty, especially in cases like the Zimmerman trial where the use and context of such language plays such an important role.

This is just one of too many errors CNN has made this year. In April, CNN mistakenly reported a suspect had been taken into custody concerning the Boston Marathon bombings — claims later determined to be false, to the dismay of millions who had been tracking the story on a minute-by-minute basis. The urgency at CNN to provide the most sensational news to its audience didn't wait for checking sources. Earlier in March, CNN (among other networks) failed to censor the name of the Steubenville rape victim, and their reporters seemed to sympathize with the defendants in the trial rather than the victim. Clearly, CNN needs to get it together if it wants to retain (or restore) any credibility as a news source.