Update: “A Message From Katie Couric”… A Really Damning One

But she's so cute! How can someone so cute be such a lying, untrustworthy weasel?

But she’s so cute! How can someone so cute be such a lying, untrustworthy weasel?

Katie Couric’s approval of intentionally deceptive editing in the anti-gun documentary “Under the Gun” (which Ethics Alarms discussed here) was and should be regarded as a definitive nail in her metaphorical coffin as a serious and trustworthy journalist. The revelation that she facilitated an unequivocal lie in the documentary, and her failure to acknowledge its unethical nature once it was exposed (instead, Couric endorsed the documentary-maker’s evasive non apology and said she was “very proud of the film” ), has no remedy other than to ignore Katie Couric forevermore. She’s a liberal agenda-driven hack who is not above distorting the truth to bolster policies she likes, in this case, banning guns. After this fiasco,there is no question about it.

CNN’s wishy-washy media ethics commentator Brian Stelter noted in a recent post about the incident that “an assortment of media critics and conservative writers” thought the documentary-maker’s fake apology that Couric rubber-stamped “was not sufficient.” Huh! Excuse me for being impertinent, but why is the practice of alleged journalists with national reputations using lies as a tool of advocacy a partisan issue?

Why are only “conservative writers” bothered when a documentary produced by Katie Couric intentionally uses a deceptive edit to make a group of gun owners look like fools who can’t come up with a response to a basic question about background checks? Why don’t liberal, moderate and honest writers protest as well? Are intentionally dishonest techniques all right with the latter group, as long as they have the purpose of destroying public support for the Bill of Rights?

The flagrant shredding of both documentary ethics and journalism ethics by long-time media darling Couric (who has always been as biased as a journalist can get) received some grudging attention from the non-conservative media, but nothing like the wave of indignation that would have followed a similar breach that made gun opponents look foolish in a documentary by, say, Britt Hume. Compare the treatment of Couric’s deception to the way the mainstream media attacked and discredited the hidden videos of Planned Parenthood ghouls talking about aborting fetuses like it had all the significance of clipping toenails.

Couric signaled, clearly and obviously, that she felt the uenthical edit was just fine, thank-you, when she allowed days to pass without any comment other than that she was “very proud of the film.”  That’s how she feels, folks. There’s no ambiguity or confusion. If she was sorry, or realized she screwed up, or didn’t believe that the scourge of gun violence didn’t have to be stopped “by any means necessary,” including deception, she would have issued a genuine mea culpa immediately. She didn’t.

This is called doing a “Dan Rather.”

Then Katie decided that it wasn’t working. Many of the same “conservative writers” who wouldn’t let NBC shrug off the fact that Brian Williams was a compulsive liar were writing that Couric’s career was toast, so she apparently huddled with her PR crisis gurus and released this on Monday, titled “A Message From Katie Couric”. Here’s the whole, wretched thing:

“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). My question to the VCDL regarding the ability of convicted felons and those on the terror watch list to legally obtain a gun, was followed by an extended pause, making the participants appear to be speechless.

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.

I hope we can continue to have an important conversation about reducing gun deaths in America, a goal I believe we can all agree on.”

Please note:

…Couric’s version of “responsibility” is exactly like Hillary Clinton’s version in her Benghazi testimony before Congress: she takes responsibility, but denies that she did anything wrong. See, ladies, when you have responsibility for a project that ends up being a disaster, you did something wrong by definition. It was your job to prevent disasters. When you have responsibility and there is a disaster, you have to do better than just saying, “I take responsibility, “as if that’s all that is necessary.

…Couric doesn’t say she’s sorry.  She doesn’t apologize to the individuals she allowed to be misrepresented or those who believed the documentary. There is nothing contrite about the statement at all.

…Couric is engaging in deceit when she writes  that “I regret that those eight seconds were misleading”—she knew they were misleading when she approved them!  The statement can only mean that she regrets getting caught. The words she should have written, that she had an ethical obligation to write, are these: “I regret that we intentionally misled our audience and misrepresented those who agreed to be interviewed on camera, trusting that they would be treated fairly and professionally.” 

…Another equivocation: “and that I did not raise my initial concerns more vigorously.” The problem wasn’t how vigorously she “raised her concerns.The breach of ethics was that she didn’t say: “Wait—that’s not what happened. I’m Katie Couric: people trust me to tell the truth. Put the real responses back in, or we’re not doing this. No argument.”

…She is also lying  in her “message” here:When VCDL members recently pointed out that they had in fact immediately answered this question…” suggests that what, Katie forgot what happened in her own interview? She knew the documentary director had intentionally left out their responses–she admitted as much in the previous sentence. She says she questioned the pause, and accepted–accepted!—the justification that it was more powerful to put in a silent “beat” (I know what dramatic “beats” are; I’m a professional stage director. A “beat” is a couple of seconds. A nine second pause is no “beat.”) than to include their immediate answers. Nobody had to point out to Couric that the VCDL members responses were edited out. She knew it; she approved it.

…”I went back and reviewed it and agree that those eight seconds do not accurately represent their response.”  Katie, who knew the pause replaced their actual responses, had to “review it,” and after serious reflection, concluded that, “Ah, yes, omitting the actual responses to my question and replacing them with DEAD AIR really didn’t accurately reflect what occurred.”  Who can possibly believe this? She knew their answers had been cut out, but had to review the film to figure out that representing their spoken statements as silence does not  “accurately represent their response”? Couric simultaneously believes the public is as gullible as a child and that her media defenders will accept any nonsensical excuse she spins.

….VCDL members have a right for their answers to be shared…” Katie says. So you’re going to have the documentary-maker put them back in the film, then, right?  “…and so we have posted a transcript of their responses here.” 

Wait, what? The documentary will remain as it is, including the “beat” that misleads the audience, and the silence that makes the members of the VCDL look like shamefaced dolts, but to be fair, their actual responses are buried in Katie’s message???

Gee, Katie, why not deposit them in a lock box in Carlsbad Caverns? If a documentary conveys false information, the only ethical responses are to change it, or pull it. Placing the missing information in an online message from the producer is not a remedy. In fact, this shows how trivial Couric thinks the truth is.

If the documentary doesn’t sink Couric’s career in journalism, her despicable and damning “message” should.

22 thoughts on “Update: “A Message From Katie Couric”… A Really Damning One

    • I’ve received several angry e-mails already, including a formal protest from The Weasel Defamation League (WDL) as well as People Opposed to Pejorative Weasel Rhetoric, or POP (goes the weasel).

  1. Jack,
    I haven’t seen the documentary, but did she ever show their responses after the “beat” was inserted? In other words, was there an 8-second lag followed by thoughtful responses to the posed question, or does it just cut to something else?

    • No. Did you get to read the original post on this?

      “Couric is seen asking members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, gun rights supporters all, “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?” The pro-gun members of the group with the motto “Defending Your Right to Defend Yourself”can’t answer the question! The documentary shows blank stares and a damning, awkward, 9 second period of total silence.

      Fortunately, one of the gun owners in the sequence, VCDL President Philip Van Cleave, recorded the actual event before it was edited to make gun owners look like mutes. There was no pause. The members offered several answers. They were omitted from the documentary, with a pause inserted instead to bolster an anti-gun agenda.”

    • This is a good point (I haven’t had time to watch the video either). If the pause was followed by their thoughtful responses, then there might be some (very little) merit to the “we wanted to give viewer the chance to mull this important question over” line of thinking. However, their answers were (apparently) omitted all together, which shows that flimsy excuse for the lie that it is. That powerful people such as Couric and Soechtig can get away with such deplorable tactics, much less get paid for them, makes me so angry, I cannot properly put my disgust into words. This should make everyone angry, regardless of which side of the fence you sit on.

      If you believe your stance is unshakable, and built on a solid foundation, you should NEVER need to resort to deception, lies, and underhanded tricks to convince others to see things from your point of view, whether they ultimately agree with you or not. And if you do have to resort to tricks, then maybe reconsider how strong the foundation of your belief system really is.

  2. And it seems like it was a good idea for Van Cleave to proactively record the interview. Did he suspect that there would be deceptive edits? Is this what people interviewed by Couric (and others) now have to do to make sure that they are represented accurately.

    • AM, this is what has to happen with virtually all of the media, these days. Anyone who believes Fox News is above such dishonesty hasn’t watched Bill O’Reilly lately.

  3. “[Katie Couric] is a liberal agenda-driven hack who is not above distorting the truth to bolster policies she likes.”

    That says it all.

    Unfortunately what these hacks (and there is CLEARLY more than one liberal agenda-driven hack involved in this fiasco) did seems to be what modern day “journalism” has become; it used to be sad when journalists pulled this kind of agenda-driven hackery, but it’s gone far, Far, FAR beyond sad in very recent modern times because it’s becoming so common place to have this agenda-driven hackery shoved in our faces by journalists that it’s starting to pass as “acceptable journalism” to the blindly ignorant masses.

  4. With the resources at hand for NBC, CBS, & ABC – there’s no reason any of these programs should not make available the raw uncut footage of this interview (and every interview) online. I’m sure YouTube would be happy to host it. It might be as dry as watching a city council meeting, but knowing that the raw footage is available can only lead to a more conscious effort by editors and producers not to misrepresent the interview when they cut it into a more “entertaining” or “educational” format.

    And yes – regarding her follow-up non-apology, self-justifying statement… simply appalling. If nothing else, they could have done a freeze-frame on Katie’s face when she finished asking the question so it was obvious they were giving time for the viewer to consider the question – but instead they inserted a deception of silent b-roll of the respondents from another time-period.

    • Also – anyone giving an interview to these organizations should demand that a raw/uncut/unedited version of the interview be made available online concurrently as a condition of doing the interview.

    • Ironically, given the hilariously broken state of copyright enforcement on youtube right now; any actual posted recording of the interview without the “beat” would probably get taken down via copyright claim from the sleazebags who do not want it shared.

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