The case is clear. Katie Couric, a person Yahoo employs to be the face of its news division, was caught in a grotesque deception. Then, when she was publicly exposed, rather than apologizing, she doubled down — defending the choice to cast innocent Americans as ignorant rubes rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. She has lost her credibility. Any news organization that continues to employ her loses its credibility as well.
Here are the facts, as exposed by the Washington Free Beacon’s Stephen Gutowski. Couric served as executive producer and narrator of a documentary called “Under the Gun,” a film written, produced, and directed by and anti-gun activist named Stephanie Soechtig. At one point in the movie, Couric asks a collection of Virginia gun owners, members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?” Watch what apparently happens next:
This simple question seems to shock the gun owners into silence. They seem to have no answer — as if they’re stupid enough and foolish enough to be thinking to themselves, “By golly, I had no idea felons might try to get guns.” Score one for Couric, right? She exposed those gun nuts for the rubes they are.
Well, it turns out that Couric and Soechtig got “creative.” The VCDL was wisely recording Couric’s interview and released its own tape:
Rather than greeting Couric’s question as some sort of mic-dropping moment, the gun-rights activists had multiple responses. One man argues that men and women who’ve served time and paid their debt to society shouldn’t lose their Second Amendment rights. Another argues that laws on the books clearly prohibit gun possession by certain classes of people. Say what you want about their answers, but they were answers.
At this point, a responsible documentarian either immediately apologizes, promises to investigate exactly how the deception occurred, and pledges to re-edit the film — or they contest the VCDL’s evidence. Instead, Soechtig issued this statement:
There are a wide range of views expressed in the film. My intention was to provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question before presenting the facts on Americans’ opinions on background checks. I never intended to make anyone look bad and I apologize if anyone felt that way.
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple’s response was exactly right, saying that he’s “scarcely seen a thinner, more weaselly excuse.” But, as he notes, it’s not just an excuse, it reads as an admission. She’s not contesting the VCDL’s claims.
This is exactly the point where a former network anchor — a person who still enjoys respect in the news business — should step in and impose adult supervision. But in her own comment on the controversy, Couric not only said that she was “proud of the film” she also supported Soechtig’s statement.
New media has long claimed that it will be better than the old media — that it will be more responsive, more transparent, and more accountable. But for all its faults, we know that old media would almost certainly take this offense seriously. We’ve seen even the most powerful news personalities brought low by fabrications and deceptions. NBC suspended Brian Williams for his lies — even when Williams issued statements far more contrite than Couric’s. Dan Rather — a broadcast-news giant — “retired” rather than face termination for his own role in passing off fraudulent documents about George W. Bush’s military service.Simply put, if new media wants to be taken seriously, it needs to act seriously. Here’s what a serious news organization would do: Suspend Couric immediately, launch a thorough and comprehensive investigation of the VCDL’s allegations, and then — if the investigation confirms the facts stated above without revealing any material mitigating circumstances — fire her.
Absent serious action, Yahoo will join Couric in sending the message that the truth no longer matters — only the cause. And in this case, the “cause” is a direct attack on Americans’ fundamental constitutional rights. Years ago, The Who declared its cynical take on politics — “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.” But unless Yahoo steps up, it will turn out The Who wasn’t quite cynical enough. Meet the new media, worse than the old.
— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.