There’s a process to these things: When Katie Couric first came under criticism for a bogus edit in the documentary “Under the Gun,” she issued a statement saying that she was “proud” of the film. Then, on Thursday, TheWrap reported that an “individual with knowledge of Couric’s thinking called it an “unnecessary mistake.” And last night, Couric put her name to the sentiment, issuing an apology and conceding that the edit was “misleading.”
The edit in question came after Couric, in “Under the Gun,” asks a group of gun rights advocates with the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) about background checks. The response depicted in the documentary is silence, as the camera pans around to blank expressions, as shown in the clip below.
Anyone watching that segment comes away with the notion that Couric stunned her interviewees with a tough question.
Philip Van Cleave, the president of the VCDL, made an audio recording of the session that shows a different reality in which Couric’s question fetches an immediate reply. “Well, one, if you’re not in jail then you should still have your basic rights and you should go buy a gun,” responds one participant. Indeed, Couric says in posing the question, “I know how you all are going to answer this, but I’m asking anyway.”
Couric is the narrator and executive producer of “Under the Gun,” though she herself didn’t carry out the awful edit. That was Director Stephanie Soechtig, who last Wednesday issued this weak statement over the dust-up:
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.
That disavowal of responsibility for misportraying people simply couldn’t stand. And thanks to Couric, it hasn’t stood. Here’s the first sentence of Couric’s apology, which was posted to the “Under the Gun” site on Monday: “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),” writes Couric, who notes that the edit makes the VCDL folks appear “speechless.” There’s detail in this mea culpa, too:
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.
The No. 1 lesson here is to never deliberately make people who cooperate with your documentary look like stumped fools — and chalk it all up to “dramatic effect.” The No. 2 lesson here is to keep the pressure on people who fail to adequately make amends for their bad journalism. Gun rights supporters and others kept this issue hot on social media and elsewhere in the days following the inadequate statements from Couric and Soechtig, with the former clearly making a decision that she didn’t want to keep fielding when-are-you-going-to-apologize requests after Memorial Day. Prominent media figures are just like the government — they yield to lobbying.