Katie Couric and a group of filmmakers were sued for defamation on Tuesday by a Virginia gun rights group that claims that their documentary “Under the Gun” was edited to make it look like they had no basis for their opposition to universal background checks.
The $12 million lawsuit, filed in federal court in Virginia, contends that the manipulated footage harmed the reputation of the Virginia Citizens Defense League and its members. Two of them, Daniel Hawes and Patricia Webb, were featured in the documentary and are plaintiffs in the case. Couric narrated the documentary and was credited as producer.
At issue is an exchange in the documentary in which Couric asks the members, “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”
The camera then shows the members silent and looking away.
“After nearly nine seconds of silent footage — instead of the responses that the VCDL members had actually provided — the Defendants inserted footage of someone closing the cylinder of a fully-loaded revolver, driving home the point that the exchange was over,” the lawsuit stated.
In reality, the lawsuit says that unedited footage shows that members immediately began explaining their position on background checks and to rebut the premise of Couric’s question. The suit says that the members spent six minutes responding to Couric’s question.
The organization notes in the lawsuit that Couric, after reviewing the footage before the documentary’s release, confronted its director, Stephanie Soechtig, and an editor for Atlas Films “because the footage was misleading and misrepresented her exchange with the VCDL members. In response, Soechtig and the editor admitted they had intentionally manipulated the footage.” But, the lawsuit said, they refused to correct the footage. Soechtig and Atlas Films are also named as defendants in the case, along with Epix.
The lawsuit also cites Couric’s statement after a controversy erupted over the edited footage, which included a transcript of their responses. But the Citizens Defense League said in its lawsuit that even those responses were edited.
“Defendants’ deliberate and continued misrepresentations of Couric’s exchange with the VCDL shows that they did not really regret their actions or want to set the record straight, but that they were attempting to claim the moral high ground while doubling down on their misrepresentation of the VCDL,” the lawsuit states.
A spokesman for Soechtig said in a statement, “It’s ironic that people who so passionately defend the Second Amendment want to trample the rights guaranteed to a filmmaker under the First. Stephanie stands by ‘Under the Gun,’ and will not stop her work on behalf of victims of gun violence.”
A spokesman for Couric said she would have no comment.
Epic said that the claims against it “are completely without merit. ‘Under the Gun’ premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it received critical acclaim. Epic saw the Sundance screening and acquired the documentary at that time. The network had no role in its creation or production and should therefore not be a party to this lawsuit.”