WIUM Tristates Public Radio

"Dramatic Effect" Misleads the Audience

Jun 14, 2016

Yahoo Finance reported on an editing decision made in the documentary "Under the Gun," which was co-produced by Katie Couric – an editing decision that itself has come under the gun.

As Yahoo Finance describes it, “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.” 

Viewers get the impression the VCDL members were stumped by the question, but in fact an audio recording of the interview demonstrates one of them responded immediately.  Couric initially denied inserting silence but later acknowledged it was put into the piece to create a certain dramatic effect. 

Shop Talk panelist Emily Boyer believes reporter/personality types are trying to straddle the line between entertainment and news.  And what passes for good entertainment does not necessarily equate accurate reporting.

Boyer said Couric appeared to have an agenda and was trying to prove a point, and the only reason she didn’t get away with it is because the VCDL came up with an unedited audio recording of the conversation.

Jonathan Ahl pointed out all stories contain editing. It’s done, for example, for clarity or to get to point more quickly.  But he said it’s problematic when an edit changes the meaning or mood of a story.

Ahl said what Couric and her production team did is wrong, but he’s also concerned that there is a public clamor for journalists to advocate for causes instead of reporting facts.

Rich Egger said the editing decision could end up reflecting poorly on all reporters because the public has a tendency to lump all media together.  He said it’s okay for reporters to edit as long as they don’t change the meaning.  But by inserting that eight seconds, Couric and her team changed the meaning of that bit of audio and misled the audience.