Last week, when gun-rights advocates first cried foul, she sniffed that she was “very proud” of the film. Now, in a statement posted this morning, she’s claiming the edit bothered her too the first time she watched it. What happened?
Here’s a safe bet. So long as it was only activists on the right who were criticizing her, Couric and her team could shrug it off and refuse to address the edit. They’ll wear the attacks from “gun nuts” like a badge of honor, no matter how meritorious they are; it’s good PR for a movie about gun control. Once “respectable” media echoed the criticism, though, it risked undermining the moral authority of the film, which is the whole point of gun-control propaganda. A critique of the media-political class from the right isn’t credible until someone from the class itself validates it. The same dynamic explains why the New York Times’s story last week about the controversy ran under the headline, “Audio of Katie Couric Interview Shows Editing Slant in Gun Documentary, Site Claims.” There was no need for that last bit. The Times could have checked the work of Stephen Gutowski and the Washington Free Beacon in five minutes and declared as a matter of plain fact that the footage had been edited deceptively. They felt obliged to hedge by noting that this is merely what the Free Beacon “claims” only because the Beacon is a right-wing site and thus is presumed untrustworthy until someone not of the right has vouched for it.
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.
“Dramatic effect,” huh? I didn’t realize it until I read this Examiner post but it turns out other Couric productions have also allegedly used creative editing to falsely suggest that Katie stumped an interviewee who was on the wrong side of an issue. From an account of Couric’s 2004 production “Fed Up”:
“I am told from others who have seen the film that a clip is shown in which I am asked a question about how one would ideally test whether sugar sweetened beverages contribute to obesity, and that I ask for a few moments to collect my thoughts; after showing me think for about 10 seconds, the camera cuts away before I give my answer,” says Allison, who hasn’t seen the film. “If this is the case, the film-makers’ behavior seems counter to thoughtful dialogue. To ask me a question and edit out the answer, and I did answer every question, shows a lack of interest in a discussion of the evidence.”
Precisely. The “stump the chump” edit is what you do when you want to make the subject look like an imbecile for opposing the conventional liberal position, not when you’re interested in a discussion. (That’s why “The Daily Show” loves it.) I was curious about Couric’s “dramatic pause” defense, though, so I asked Gutowski, who’s seen the entire film, whether the full exchange with the VCDL members appears at any point. After all, a “dramatic pause” between question and answer would involve extra time being added between the two to create the illusion that the question was difficult for the subject. If the answer is never shown, however, that’s not a pause. That’s a full redaction, implying that the subject was unable to answer the question at all. According to Gutowski, the film never returns to the exchange with the VCDL members to show their responses. Which means, even in damage-control mode, Couric’s being misleading about what the editors actually did and why.
Her best defense, frankly, may be that this is SOP by filmmakers who favor gun control when interviewing subjects who don’t. Via Becket Adams, here’s a few minutes of footage from the segment in “Under the Gun” that features the VCDL members. Note the bombastic operatic music at the beginning designed to mock their enjoyment of shooting at the range.