“Gun rights activists took issue with the selective editing on ‘Under the Gun,’” the Hollywood Reporter wrote recently about Katie Couric getting caught fiddling with footage in her documentary that premiered last month on Epix.
Fair enough, except the term “selective editing” is an oxymoron. What is editing if not selection, a process of snipping, selecting, and putting together? Such manipulation is the essence of documentaries, news reporting, propaganda, commercials, and reality TV.
So what happens in the disputed segment?
Couric and nine unidentified people sit in a circle. She asks questions about their opinions about guns in America.
First question: “How many of you are carrying a gun right now?” Every hand goes up.
Then she asks, “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”
A montage shows the nine faces, one by one, silent, for eight seconds.
Some say it makes the nine look dumb. To me, they look like they’re pondering their answers, which never come on camera.
As it turns out, one of those participating recorded the actual exchange. The recording was sent to the conservative website The Washington Free Beacon, where it was picked up by everyone.
You can hear it in its entirety at http://freebeacon.com. You can also listen to podcasts labeled “Bill Clinton would ‘laugh until he cried’ with stories of buying votes” and “Bill Clinton had flatulence issue as president.”
Among the responses heard on audio, the most cogent comes from a lawyerly sounding gentleman.
“In fact we do have statutes at the federal and state level that prohibit certain classes from being in possession of firearms,” he says. “If you’re an illegal immigrant, if you’re a convicted felon, if you’ve been adjudicated insane, these things are already illegal.”
“Adjudicated.” Sounds convincing.
Too bad Couric at this point had no follow-up question, like, “what about the ‘gun show loophole’?” According to one of the film’s experts, that’s how 40 percent of guns get sold with no background check at all.
It also sounds like the answer that Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, offers to a similar question posed by Vermont Senator Pat Leahy in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing shown later in the film. Except that Leahy brings up the “gun show loophole,” and he demands an answer to his question.
There are no edited-in pauses in this exchange.
Leahy: “Should we have mandatory background checks at gun shows…?”
LaPierre: “If you’re a dealer, that’s already the law. If…”
Leahy: “That’s not my question, Mr. LaPierre. I’m not trying to play games here. If you could, just answer my question.”
And so he does, saying he does not think the law should be extended to “private sales between hobbyists and collectors,” which are, of course, not the only transactions that take place at gun shows.
Couric could have done the same. She could have asked the right questions and let the answers come as they may. Instead, she relied on crude editing tricks that she says she regrets as being “misleading,’’ and now that’s all we talk about.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.