January 30, 2013
close-up of a handgun
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

From the looks of things, MSNBC thinks it did nothing wrong. On Tuesday it aired video with a graphics box talking about how gun rights advocates had “heckled” the testimony of Neil Heslin, the father of a 12/14 victim who participated in a hearing in Hartford, Conn., on gun violence.

As the Erik Wemple Blog has argued, Heslin wasn’t heckled, unless you consider the act of responding to a question an act of heckling. After receiving complaints about its handling of the matter, MSNBC indicated it was reviewing the matter.

That review apparently wrapped by Wednesday’s edition of “Bashir Live.” Guest host Ari Melber played a longer version of the testimony but rendered no official judgment on whether the network may have erred with its “hecklers” judgment. He stated that the full-time host, Martin Bashir, who had pronounced himself in the “heckler” column, wanted viewers to see the whole clip so that they can “draw their own conclusion.”

And behold a massive MSNBC cop-out. On Wednesday viewers have the luxury of drawing their own conclusions. Why didn’t they have that luxury Tuesday?

At least the Huffington Post has the courage to provide an explanation for its editorial decision. The all-you-can-eat news site has stuck with its headline, “Neil Heslin, Father Of Newtown Victim, Heckled By Pro-Gun Activists.”

When asked if Huffington’s editors had considered changing its judgment (as did Slate), spokesman Rhoades Alderson responded, “Our team reviewed the unedited clip and determined that it was heckling. The distinction was made because the shouts did not directly address the question being posed and were disruptive.”

Would that the Huffington Post were offending only journalism. Yet it’s taking a swipe at the English language as well. A common definition of “heckle” is this: “Interrupt (a public speaker) with derisive or aggressive comments or abuse.” The Huffington Post is apparently calling for an amendment: “Respond to questions from an interlocutor with answers that media elites deem daft.”

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.