The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights and Second Amendment advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit against Yahoo News global news anchor Katie Couric over a documentary film the group says was defamatory.
The suit, filed Tuesday in a U.S. District Court in Virginia, claims that “Under the Gun,” a documentary Couric produced and narrated, deceptively edited an interview with the group’s members to mislead viewers into thinking the group was uninformed about background checks.
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple had been writing about public criticism of the documentary, and was the first to report on the suit Tuesday.
Stephanie Soechtig, the film’s director, her company, Atlas Films LLC, and the film’s distributor, Epix, are named as co-defendants in the suit, which is seeking compensatory damages of at least $12 million.
At the center of the case is a segment of the film in which Couric interviewed members of the VCDL about gun control and background checks. During this segment, Couric asks a question about preventing “felons or terrorists” from buying a gun without background checks. The film then depicts members of the group sitting silent for eight seconds, not answering the question at all.
In May, months later the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the VCDL disputed the depiction of the exchange, and released an audio recording of the interview with Couric, in which the members of the group provided nearly six minutes of immediate response to Couric’s question about background checks.
“The manipulated footage falsely informed viewers that the VCDL members had been stumped and had no basis for their position on background checks,” reads the suit, which was reviewed by POLITICO and can be read in fullhere. “The exchange portrayed in the film is a work of fiction.”
Couric and Soetchtig faced heavy criticism for the deceptively edited exchange. In May, Couric issued a statement apologizing for the segment, saying that she regretted that it was misleading and that she did not object to the edit when the film was in production. Soetchtig has maintained that she believes she represented the group fairly.
Two members of the VCDL, Daniel Hawes and Patricia Webb, are named as plaintiffs in the suit. They say their careers — as a personal defense attorney and a firearms dealer, respectively — have been marred by the misleading exchange. They are each seeking $350,000 in punitive damages.
In addition, the plaintiffs are also seeking an injunction “prohibiting the Defendants from disseminating, distributing, or publishing any footage of the VCDL’s members, Hawes, or Webb that is judicially determined to be false.”