May 26 2016
featuring Julie Gunlock
NEW YORK — The director of a new documentary about gun violence says she is sorry for a misleading scene that makes gun rights activists seem stumped by one of interviewer Katie Couric’s questions.
“I never intended to make anyone look bad and I apologize if anyone felt that way,” director Stephanie Soechtig said after conservative blogs and media outlets exposed the editing.
Epix, the distributor of the documentary, “Under the Gun,” defended Soechtig and Couric’s work and urged people to watch it for themselves. But the National Rifle Association cited the controversy as proof that the documentary is a “fraud,” and conservative groups seized on it as a powerful illustration of liberal media bias.
Others quickly weighed in. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple said the edit was “just plain wrong.”
“Under the Gun,” like many documentaries, comes from a clear point of view. It highlights the death toll from gun violence in America and questions why more hasn’t been done to enact gun safety reforms.
Couric, an executive producer of the film, also acts as an interviewer.
At a gathering of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a staunch pro-gun group, she is heard asking the question: “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from walking into, say, a licensed gun dealer and purchasing a gun?”
The documentary shows the group members quietly looking at Couric, each other and toward the ground, as if no one has an answer to the question. This goes on for about eight seconds, and then there’s a transition to an explanation of background checks.
The documentary had its TV premiere on May 15. One week later, the Ammoland blog published the audio from the group interview, demonstrating that the activists started responding to Couric’s question right away.
In the documentary, Ammoland said, “The clear implication is that none of the group had an answer for that question and was being evasive and avoiding eye contact. The truth is … that the group responded to Katie immediately, with answers to her question. Yet the video shows no one responding.”
Ammoland’s blog post was amplified by the Washington Free Beacon website on Wednesday. That’s when Soechtig and Couric apparently became aware of the online controversy.
Most of the reactions centered on Couric, who is already distrusted by many conservatives. One conservative group, the Independent Women’s Forum, issued a statement that compared her to “serial fabricator Brian Williams” and said she “should be fired.”
But Soechtig indicated that she, not Couric, had editorial control. In a statement, Soechtig explained the edit.
“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,” Soechtig said.
Soechtig and the editors apparently stitched together Couric’s question with video from another part of the interview session, when the activists sat quietly.
While documentaries are not necessarily held to the same standards as television newscasts, the edit left viewers with the clear impression that the activists had no idea what to tell Couric.
Couric also issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying, “I support Stephanie’s statement and am very proud of the film.”
Epix, a television network and streaming service, said it “stands behind Katie Couric, director Stephanie Soechtig, and their creative and editorial judgment. We encourage people to watch the film and decide for themselves.”
As the controversy erupted, Epix promoted ways to watch the documentary for free on the web.