A gun control documentary that included a deceptive interview with gun rights supporters did not meet the legal standard of defamation, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
The documentary, “Under the Gun,” featured an interview with Katie Couric and members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. At one point, Couric asked how to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and criminals without using background checks. The gun rights supporters answered that felons should be allowed to have guns, and that preventing gun ownership does not prevent crime.
But in the documentary, their answers were omitted. Instead, eight seconds of dead silence were inserted, making it appear that Couric’s question had stumped them.
Couric — who served as an executive producer and narrator for the documentary — subsequently apologized for the deceptive editing. The Virginia Citizens Defense League and two interview subjects, Daniel Hawes and Patricia Webb, filed a defamation suit.
They argued that the film created the false impression that they were uninformed about gun issues and did not have a basis for their beliefs.
In dismissing the suit on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James A. Gibney went much farther in defending the editing than the film’s own producers did. Gibney held that the editing was not only not defamatory, it was not even false.
“The plaintiffs’ defamation claims fail because the interview scene is not false,” Gibney wrote. “Under the Gun portrays members of the VCDL not answering the question posed by Couric. In reality, members of the VCDL did not answer the question posed by Couric. They talked about background checks and gun laws generally, but did not answer the question of how to prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing guns without background checks. The editing simply dramatizes the sophistry of the VCDL members.”
Turning to the question of defamation, Gibney found that merely appearing to be “stumped” by a question is not enough to constitute defamation.
“At worst, this shows artistically that they either cannot or will not answer the question,” the judge ruled. “Their verbal responses during the interview showed the same thing. Either way, not having an answer to a question on a difficult and complex issue is not defamatory.”
The ruling was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.