News and Commentary

Katie Couric Says Sorry For Deceptively Editing Pro-Gun Advocates

On Monday, Katie Couric, the Global News anchor for Yahoo, apologized for making it look as though gun rights activists had no answer when she asked them a question for her upcoming documentary Under the Gun.

In the film, Couric asked members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?” The film shows an eight-second pause before the members answer her question, as seen here:

But in reality, the members were ready with an immediate response, as Couric admitted in her apology. Couric stated that when she asked the director of the film, Stephanie Soechtig, about the pause, she was told a “beat” was added for “dramatic effect,” supposedly to give the audience a moment to ponder. Couric did not demand that the sequence accurately reflect the real conversation.

VCDL President Philip Van Cleave released an audiotape of the conversation between Couric and the Virginia Citizens Defense League to the Washington Free Beacon, which revealed that in reality, there was no pause at all.

As the Free Beacon reported, “Instead of silence, Couric’s question is met immediately with answers from the activists. A back and forth between a number of the league’s members and Couric over the issue of background checks proceeds for more than four minutes after the original question is asked.”

As Erik Wemple reported in The Washington Post, Van Cleave emailed Kristin Lazure, a producer at Atlas Films, which made the documentary, stating:

Well, that was interesting. So a ‘balanced’ piece gives 15 minutes to the pro-gun side and 1-1/2 hours to the opposition? I had no idea that was the definition of ‘balanced,’ when I was approached about this … On the question where our members were asked, “So without background checks, how do you keep guns out of the hands of felons?”: it shows our members just sitting there and then one looking down. The editors merged some “b-roll” of our members sitting quietly between questions, followed by Katie asking the felon question. I have the audio of that entire interview and I know for an absolute fact that our members immediately jumped in to answer the question and did NOT just sit there quietly. To the person watching the video, it gave the intentionally false appearance of no one in our group having an answer. Am I supposed to think that is good journalism, Kristin? I hope that in your heart of hearts that you are at least thinking to yourself, “no, it is not.”

Lazure responded: “I’m truly sorry to hear you were disappointed with the final product. We knew when we set out to make a film on such a divisive issue that we weren’t going to make everybody happy. However, we have heard from many gun owners following our screenings and the television premiere who felt we gave the issue a balanced look and reflected their views accurately.”

Van Cleave fired back, “It’s not a ‘feeling’ – the 8 seconds of silence from gun owners shown after the question about felons is inexcusable. Within 1 or 2 seconds members responded to that question – like I said I have the proof. That edit actually changed the answer members gave to the question. Worse, that deception was intentional.”

“I take responsibility for a decision that misrepresented an exchange I had with members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.”

Katie Couric

As the furor erupted, Soechtig explained herself this way: “There are a wide range of views expressed in the film. My intention was to provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question before presenting the facts on Americans’ opinions on background checks. I never intended to make anyone look bad and I apologize if anyone felt that way.” Couric said in response to Soechtig’s statement, “I support Stephanie’s statement and am very proud of the film.”

Couric’s apology read:

As Executive Producer of “Under the Gun,” a documentary film that explores the epidemic of gun violence, I take responsibility for a decision that misrepresented an exchange I had with members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). My question to the VCDL regarding the ability of convicted felons and those on the terror watch list to legally obtain a gun, was followed by an extended pause, making the participants appear to be speechless.

When I screened an early version of the film with the director, Stephanie Soechtig, I questioned her and the editor about the pause and was told that a “beat” was added for, as she described it, “dramatic effect,” to give the audience a moment to consider the question. When VCDL members recently pointed out that they had in fact immediately answered this question, I went back and reviewed it and agree that those eight seconds do not accurately represent their response.

VCDL members have a right for their answers to be shared and so we have posted a transcript of their responses here. I regret that those eight seconds were misleading and that I did not raise my initial concerns more vigorously.

I hope we can continue to have an important conversation about reducing gun deaths in America, a goal I believe we can all agree on.