News star Katie Couric has issued a statement accepting responsibility for questionable decisions that affected the journalistic slant of documentary special Under the Gun, which recently aired on Epix. Couric was an executive producer on the project, along with Regina Kulik Scully (The Invisible War, Dogtown Redemption), Stephanie Soechtig (Fed Up, Tapped), and Michael and Michelle Walrath (Fed Up, Tapped).
The controversy surrounds an interview in the doc in which Couric asks representatives of gun-rights group the Virginia Citizens Defense League, “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?” Following the question are 8 seconds of silence which indicate the interviewees were stupefied by the question and unprepared to answer. Audio recordings revealed there was no pause in the exchange.
This is the version that aired:
Couric issued this statement which was posted to the website for Under the Gun:
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.
She then promoted her mea culpa via Twitter:
After speaking with Under the Gun director and reviewing editing process, I wanted to respond https://t.co/zLbh4Wv7XN
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) May 31, 2016
When criticism first arose Soechtig issued her own statement: “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.”
Variety reported that Couric’s comment at that time was that she supported Stephanie’s statement and “was very proud of the film.”
Responses to both apologies have been harsh.
@katiecouric you should know that dramatic effect does not belong in a real documentary. You're not a journalist. You're a phony.
— Joeyjojo Jr. (@joeyjojo_jr) May 31, 2016
@ErikWemple Not accepting this "apology". Docs should be about discovering truth, not pushing a narrative to a fault
— Giacomo Knox (@giacoknox) May 26, 2016
And a very few have been supportive.
— Jessica Jin (@jessicajin8) May 25, 2016
Couric has worked in news and hosting roles for the Big Three TV networks since 1989 and is currently Global News Anchor for Yahoo! A 15-year co-anchor spot on the Today show led to her nickname as “America’s Sweetheart”, but this gaffe is causing many to lump her in with increasing distrust in professional journalists.
It was just last year when the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams, was fired and excoriated for embellishing his experience during a combat reporting stint in Iraq. Deeper investigation led to other incidences of exaggeration or misrepresentation that sullied the longtime journalist’s reputation. Couric may be facing the same uphill battle. One commenter using the screen name ‘Ben Kibbey’ on Variety’s website wrote: “I work in print. If I state in a story that, when asked a question, my source responded with silence, and they actually gave me an answer, I would be fired. […] This kind of stuff is why we as journalists have to struggle so hard to get sources to trust us that we are going to treat them fairly.”
Capitalizing on the controversy, Epix has made the documentary available to watch under their free trial subscription online.