Armed & Dangerous: How a Gun-Rights Group Just Set a New Precedent for Taped Interviews
Given all the controversy surrounding a deceptive edit exposed in the anti-gun documentary Under the Gun, one very big question is getting overshadowed as Katie Couric‘s credibility takes a huge, arguably unrecoverable hit:
How did we get here?
In other words, let’s play this hypothetical scenario out to make a point:
– An anti-gun activist decides to do a documentary on gun violence in America
– Said activist happens to be a longtime friend of Katie Couric, arguably one of the biggest names in broadcast news over the past quarter-century
– Couric reaches out to the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights advocacy group to inquire about it participating in the documentary
– VCDL agrees
– Couric meets with the group in a rented conference room in Northern Virginia
The documentary is then edited and released on EPIX. The VCDL sees themselves being completely misrepresented in a key enough moment in the film to be highlighted in the trailer. In the moment in question, Couric appears to ask a devastating question around background checks… a question met by stunned silence from those being questioned for eight long seconds as they search their collective heads for an answer, with one man even bowing his head in shame.
But everyone in the room — including Couric — knows this didn’t happen. So the group decides to protest on its website and to anyone in the media willing to listen to them that the film is dishonest and patently misleading.
But Couric and the film’s producer (Stephanie Soechtig) are steadfast in their denials. They insist it is exactly how it went down. In the end, it’s basically the VCDL’s word vs. Couric, a winner of two Edward R. Murrow awards in the past decade and as beloved by media elites and A-listers in general as it gets, even today as she reaches the twilight of her career. For her part, Couric says “she’s proud of the film” and stands by her director, while Soechtig says the group is portrayed fairly and claims nothing was altered.
As a result, the story gains zero traction because of the he-said-she-said aspect alone. Without some kind of tangible proof, the VCDL is screwed.
But that’s not what happened, is it? A VCDL member did decide to tape the entire interview, unbeknownst to Soechtig and Couric. They are able to present damning evidence on its website. The VCDL’s audio is first reported by the Washington Free Beacon‘s Stephen Gutkowski. It grows legs from there because the contrast of what is presented in the documentary and the VCDL’s raw audio make one of the more easy stories of blatant bias you’ll see.
At the center of it all? Katie Couric, journalism royalty… who only after five days of growing criticism* finally gets around to offering up an apology (an apology, of course, that doesn’t call on Soechtig to pull the documentary or at least the scene in question).
*Note: The “growing criticism” of Couric wasn’t exactly an avalanche, particularly in traditional media. At last check, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC all didn’t touch the story on its air (Fox News has on several occasions, including Howard Kurtz’s Media Buzz on Sunday). Questions: Is it because gun advocates exposed the deceptive edit? Is it because — as CNN’s Brian Stelter points out — that the documentary is “an obscure, barely-watched film” despite having someone of Couric’s stature involved and therefore not worthy of covering in an on-air report/segment? These are questions without definitive, tangible answers. But at least from this perspective, it’s difficult to justify a complete omission given how this deception was revealed (concretely) and whom was involved (Couric).
But what’s the bigger takeaway here? That decision to record the interview by the VCDL, of course. It could have been done on a phone, with a small digital recorder that can fit in a palm of a hand or in a shirt pocket. Bottom line: We can record anyone, anytime, anywhere these days with one push of a button on devices like phones we’re almost expected to be holding in our hands anyway. Mitt Romney may well have been president save for the secretly recorded 47 percent tape. Donald Sterling would almost certainly be president of the Los Angeles Clippers if not exposed via a secret recording by his girlfriend revealing racist remarks that forced him to sell the team.
Either way, if I’m any politician or member of an activist group or even just your average person sitting down for a taped interview, I look back at what the VCDL accomplished here as a how-to-avoid-being-inaccurately-portrayed guide… because I can’t trust what the messenger regardless of who’s asking the questions.
Final Scoreboard: Katie Couric’s reputation and credibility — one that has seen very little controversy over nearly three decades — may be irreversibly harmed.
Stephanie Soechtig’s documentary — one she likely put months into planning, filming, editing and selling — has already been roundly dismissed as dishonest and basically a joke.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League: Its credibility very much intact instead of being made to look like buffoons courtesy of Couric and Soechtig.
It’s a new media world we live in. And when the next big media member is caught red-handed for deceptive edits and dishonesty, think back to this moment.
Because more than a few folks will come armed for interviews moving forward.
Not with a gun, but with phones and a recording app.
>>Follow Joe Concha on Twitter @JoeConchaTV
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.