Video: Lawrence O'Donnell holding on tight to the "Sandy Hook father was heckled" meme

Tough spot for MSNBC. Having been caught bowdlerizing the video of Neil Heslin’s testimony to push the “gun-rights supporters are monsters” narrative, they had a decision to make. Retract, as Slate and Anderson Cooper did, or double down on the outrageous outrage, as we all knew dear Piers would. And did:

That’s true to form, at least, in its theatrical disgust at people who’ve done nothing wrong except hold a more expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment than his own. But I digress. MSNBC had plenty of cover from other media outlets to retreat here: The Week published a piece last night calling the heckling allegations “bogus” and WaPo’s Erik Wemple declared that there’s simply no there there.

Man invites comment from audience; audience replies with comment; man comes away unperturbed. Does that qualify as a moment of heckling? Have a look at the definition of the term: “Interrupt (a public speaker) with derisive or aggressive comments or abuse.”

Since Heslin invited feedback, the audience response cannot qualify as an interruption. On that front alone, there is simply no heckling here. And there’s further evidence: After the back and forth, Heslin didn’t appear one bit bothered by the interaction. He said, “Anyway, we’re all entitled to our own opinion, and I respect their opinions and thoughts, but I wish they’d respect mine and give it a little bit of thought.”

In fact, Wemple reports this morning that MSNBC is “reviewing the video in question,” which is nice but odd given that the key bit from Heslin’s testimony runs for maybe 20 seconds and stories about the bogus “heckling” meme have been circulating for, oh, maybe 16 hours. How much time do they need to watch a half-minute segment from a YouTube video and decide if it says what they said it says? Or maybe they’re busy trying to decide which video editor’s responsible for bowdlerizing it? In fairness, that could take a while: At NBC, there’s no shortage of suspects.

While we wait for the results of their exhaustive multi-day investigation about something an eight-year-old could render a judgment on in 10 seconds, here’s Lawrence O’Donnell engaged in some minor Orwellian rewriting of the definition of “heckle” in hopes of rescuing the meme. Sure, Heslin wasn’t “heckled” according to how everyone else in the world understands that word, i.e. an unprompted interruption from the audience designed to humiliate a speaker, but if you redefine “heckling” to mean “saying something stupid from the audience” and then simply assert that what the audience said was stupid, bingo. You’ve got yourself some heckling. I don’t know why he didn’t go farther, frankly. If we’re in the business of redefining common words to serve political goals, why not define “heckling” as “disagreeing politically with a grieving parent,” period? That way, the left can affect outrage at gun-rights supporters in any context, not just when they have the gall to say something at a public meeting when invited to do so.

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