Amid withering criticism from media watchdogs, NBC News said Monday that it will conduct an internal probe into how and why an audiotape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call was altered to make the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer sound racist.
Mr. Zimmerman, who has said he fatally shot teenager Trayvon Martin in self-defense, is at the center of a raging national controversy over race, guns and stereotyping.
“We have launched an internal investigation into the editorial process surrounding this particular story,” NBC told The Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple on Monday.
In the edited tape, which ran on NBC’s “Today” show March 27, Mr. Zimmerman tells a police dispatcher that the 17-year-old “looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
NBC started investigating after Fox News and others noted that the audio recording, played in its entirety, reveals that Mr. Zimmerman’s “He looks black” comment was made after the dispatcher asked, “Is he black, white or Hispanic?” — a portion of the tape that NBC edited out.
Prominent black leaders and many in the media have cited the audio as evidence that Mr. Zimmerman shot the teen because of his race, but Mr. Zimmerman’s supporters insist the 28-year-old Hispanic, who has not been charged in the case, is not a racist.
NBC also has come under fire for allowing the Rev. Al Sharpton, a talk-show host on MSNBC, to comment on the case during his show while also spearheading protests in Florida.
Campaign team releases poll showing Hatch leading
Once viewed as the possible next casualty of the tea party movement, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch now sits as the favorite going into the Utah Republican Party’s nominating convention, according to a poll released Monday by the Hatch campaign.
The poll of 335 convention delegates, conducted by Dan Jones Associates of Salt Lake City, found Mr. Hatch leading the field with 62 percent. His closest challenger, former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, took 16 percent of the total, while state Rep. Chris Herrod trailed with 5 percent.
“The results of the poll show that Sen. Hatch has a great deal of support among the new delegates to the state convention,” Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen said.
Under Utah’s unique election rules, delegates will choose the Republican Senate nominee at the state convention April 21. If no candidate captures 60 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will face off in a June primary election.
Republican convention delegates tend to be more conservative than voters at large, making incumbents vulnerable to challengers running to their right. That was what happened in 2010 to Sen. Robert F. Bennett, who placed third at the tea party-dominated convention behind two newcomers who were more conservative.
But the 4,000 delegates to the 2012 convention have been described as less anti-incumbent than the 2010 pool. The Jones poll found that only 19 percent of those surveyed had served as delegates to the 2010 convention. At the same time, critics noted that the poll included less than 10 percent of the delegates.
Before the convention, the top three Republican candidates will square off in two candidate debates, scheduled for Wednesday in Draper and April 16 in St. George. About a dozen Republicans have filed to run for the nomination in a conservative state where the party’s nominee is virtually assured of winning the general election.
Democratic group targets Romney’s ties to oil
A Democratic outside group backing President Obama’s re-election bid is trying to tie Republican Mitt Romney to the oil industry, responding to an ad assailing Mr. Obama’s energy record.
The TV ad released Monday by Priorities USA Action argues that the oil industry is trying to help Mr. Romney win the White House to protect its own profits and tax breaks.
It aims to counter a $3.6 million ad campaign launched last week by the American Energy Alliance that blames Mr. Obama for rising gas prices and criticizes his decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline project.
The ad is running in the same states where the American Energy Alliance placed its ad: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. All eight are expected to be election battlegrounds.
EPA closer to approving 15 percent ethanol gas
DES MOINES, Iowa — The federal government has taken another step toward wide distribution of gasoline mixed with 15 percent ethanol by allowing manufacturers to register as suppliers.
While the Environmental Protection Agency is moving the process forward by allowing the registration, E15 still has to clear another set of federal tests and become a registered fuel in individual states. Ethanol makers then must persuade petroleum marketers to sell the formula at gas stations.
Most ethanol fuel sold for passenger cars and pickups today is 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gas. The new blend boosts ethanol to 15 percent. It would be used only in 2001 and newer vehicles.
Twenty ethanol makers that have registered to sell E15 are based in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Bill Clinton: Obama can argue he steadied economy
Former President Bill Clinton said he believes President Obama can win re-election if he can persuade voters that he steadied a shaky economy.
Mr. Clinton told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he believes likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney will have a difficult time reconciling positions he has taken during the primary season with what he will say against Mr. Obama in the fall.
Mr. Clinton was asked whether Mr. Obama can argue that Americans are better off than they were four years ago, as he argued in winning re-election in 1996.
He replied that if Mr. Obama can’t make that case, “it is only because of the financial collapse that occurred in September 2008” — before Mr. Obama took office.
Mr. Clinton said Mr. Obama can assert that “we put a floor under the recession and kept it from becoming a depression.”
Romney ducks question about Book of Mormon
GREEN BAY — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced a tough question about his Mormon faith while campaigning for Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary.
A Ron Paul supporter asked Mr. Romney whether he agreed with a passage from the Book of Mormon that describes a cursing of people with a “skin of blackness.” Mr. Romney’s staff took the microphone away from the 28-year-old Green Bay man before he could read the passage.
Mr. Romney said he didn’t want to discuss religion.
But he returned to the subject later in the event. Mr. Romney talked about serving as a Mormon pastor for more than a decade in Boston. He said the experience taught him that most people have personal problems. He said he is running for president because he wants to lighten those burdens.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports