When Katie Couric released her anti-gun “documentary,” it made some people furious. Couric had a reputation as a serious journalist, one that gained her access to gun rights activists that a partisan hack like Michael Moore wouldn’t get.
She abused that by manipulating the editing to make it appear as if gun rights activists had no answer to a key question.
The Fourth Circuit recently found that while the deception was real, it doesn’t rise to the level of defamation.
According to the Fourth Circuit, even if the film was deceptively edited, nine seconds of silence in response to a question about background checks doesn’t mean pro-gun individuals are ignorant.
Katie Couric, Stephanie Soechtig, Epix and others associated with the documentary Under the Gun have successfully fended off an attempt to revive a lawsuit contending that the film tarnished the reputation of a gun rights group and several of its members.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League brought the legal claim and asserted $13 million in damages after Under the Gun premiered at the Sundance Film Festival with a controversial scene. Couric asks members of the group, “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”What followed was nine seconds of silence, which the plaintiffs alleged amounted to “manipulated footage falsely inform[ing] viewers that the VCDL members had been stumped and had no basis for their position on background checks.”
On Friday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirms a decision rejecting the lawsuit.
“To be sure, the film gives the impression that Couric’s final question stumped the panelists,” writes circuit judge Diana Gribbon Motz. “But at worst, the plain, ordinary meaning of this edit conveys that these particular members of the VCDL, after answering a series of related questions, did not have a ready-made answer to a nuanced policy question. Even with the benefit of every inference, the edited footage is not reasonably capable of suggesting that the VCDL and its members are, as they contend on appeal, ‘ignorant and incompetent on the subject to which they have dedicated their organizational mission.’”
To be fair, defamation is a tough hurdle to clear. It’s difficult to win a defamation lawsuit, by and large. Many “wins” are just exhaustion on the part of defendants coupled with dwindling funds with which to pay for attorneys.
But there’s also a takeaway here that needs to be publicized far more than the mainstream media has been willing to do, and that’s an acknowledgment that Couric used deceptive editing practices to give viewers a false sense of the discussion. She painted members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League as being unable to answer a question when that wasn’t true.
Now, to most folks, this doesn’t look like the end of the world, especially if they supported Under the Gun’s premise, but it is. In the world of journalism, what Couric did was a disgusting of ethics. It wasn’t an honest misquote but was tantamount to outright fabrication. She lied about what her interview subject’s response was.
This should be enough to tank any career.
Yet, Couric’s reputation appears to be intact. She continued working for Yahoo! News until 2017–a year after the release of the so-called documentary–and even then, she left on her own versus being terminated.
But sure, there’s no anti-gun bias in the news media, now is there?