In the grand scheme of things, eight seconds doesn’t sound like much, especially in the context of a long documentary about a complex issue like gun control. But in the current highly-charged political environment, nothing is as simple as it might seem at first, and former TV news anchor Katie Couric is learning that lesson the hard way.
Couric, who worked at the Today Show and CBS News before becoming the global news anchor at Yahoo in 2013, co-produced the documentary Under the Gun with Stephanie Soechtig, and released it earlier this year. Last week, she and Soechtig came under fire for what critics have called selective editing.
At one point during the documentary, Couric asks representatives of the Virginia Citizens Defense League a question: “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?” The VCDL members say nothing for approximately eight seconds as they look around the room, and then one answers.
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This pause creates the impression that the gun-ownership advocates were stumped by Couric’s question and struggled to come up with a reply. But as the Washington Free Beacon pointed out last week, the VCDL insists that it answered her question immediately, and there’s an audio recording to prove it. In a statement, the group said:
The editors merged some ‘b-roll’ of our members sitting quietly between questions, followed by Katie asking the felon question. I have the audio of that entire interview and I know for an absolute fact that our members immediately jumped in to answer the question and did NOT just sit there quietly. To the person watching the video, it gave the intentionally false appearance of no one in our group having an answer.
After initially saying she stood behind the documentary, Couric issued a statement on Monday admitting that the pause was inserted after the fact, in an attempt to create a certain “dramatic effect.” Couric said she asked about the pause during an initial review of the documentary, but admitted she should have pushed harder. “I regret that those eight seconds were misleading and that I did not raise my initial concerns more vigorously,” she said.
So why does an eight-second pause in a documentary matter? In a nutshell, because it has given more ammunition to supporters of Donald Trump and other right-wing gun advocates who argue that the media is biased against their cause and uses tricks to discredit them. In effect, Couric just provided them with some blockbuster evidence that this is in fact the case.
The point isn’t whether Couric or her partner actually inserted the pause in order to discredit gun-rights groups like the VCDL. It seems entirely likely that Soechtig used it for dramatic effect, just as she and Couric said she did. However, that won’t stop conservative groups, including Trump and his supporters, from arguing that it proves liberal bias.
As the Washington Post pointed out, Couric has been vocal in the past about how the media need to be harder on Trump, by pushing him on various topics. And yet, the Yahoo host has probably given at least as much help to him as any TV news channel, by providing evidence that the media conspiracy he keeps shouting about actually exists.