December 14, 2018
Television host Katie Couric didn’t defame gun rights advocates by misrepresenting how they answered a question in a documentary film about gun violence, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Dec. 13.
The film shows portions of Couric’s interview with members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. It shows members pause and shift uncomfortably when she asks how felons and terrorists can be prevented from purchasing guns without background checks.
Unedited footage shows the interviewees answered Couric by saying the federal government can’t unconstititionally prevent gun crime through prior restraint. Motivated criminals would circumvent background checks in order to obtain guns, they said
But those responses weren’t included in the documentary. The film did “not accurately represent” their responses and the segment was “misleading,” Couric later said.
The interviewees who filed the defamation lawsuit said the film suggested they were incapable of carrying on their occupations as a firearms and self-defense attorney and gun store owner. Their organization, which was a co-plaintiff, said the documentary implied it was unfit to carry out its mission.
These contentions attempt to “extend mere silence into professional ineptitude,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court. “At most, the film suggests that a handful of VCDL members, none of whom are identified as leaders within the organization, could not immediately answer a difficult gun policy question.”
“Although we agree that the filmmakers’ editing choices were questionable, the edited footage simply does not rise to the level of defamation under Virginia law,” she wrote.
Judges Roger L. Gregory and James A. Wynn, Jr. joined the opinion, which affirmed dismissal of the case.
The lawsuit also named filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig, production company Atlas Films LLC, and distributor Studio 3 Partners LLC, doing business as Epix Entertainment LLC, as defendants. Studio 3 is a subsidiary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.
Clare Locke LLP in Alexandria, Va., represented the plaintiffs. Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Washington represented Couric and her crew.
The case is Va. Citizens Def. League v. Couric, 4th Cir., No. 17-1783, 12/13/18.