NBC News has re-aired a video its critics say was selectively edited after finding itself embroiled in another controversy about edited video.
It's not the first time a controversy over editing has plagued the cable talker. NBC aired doctored versions of a 911 call in the Trayvon Martin case, which led to an apology and several people losing their jobs in April.
On Monday, MSNBC aired a video that seemed to show a grief-stricken man being heckled by pro-gun lobbyists while talking about his recently murdered son. The segment aired Monday on Martin Bashir, when the show's eponymous host played video of Neil Heslin, a father who lost his 6-year-old son at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Heslin was making a plea for gun control at a legislative hearing. At one point he turned to the audience and said: “I ask if there’s anybody in this room that can give me one reason or challenge this question: Why anybody in this room needs to have one of these assault-style weapons, or military weapons or high-capacity clips.”
When the audience remains silent, Heslin says: “Not one person can answer that question.” And that’s when a few people recited the Second Amendment in response.
The video Bashir aired, though, clipped out Heslin's question and pause in the audience's direction. The resulting edit made it look like boisterous audience members interrupted Heslin's testimony. Then, after he aired the edited clip, Bashir set up pundits with: “A father’s grief, interrupted by the cries of a heckler. That was the scene today in Hartford, Conn., where the parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary testified before an audience that wasn’t always friendly.”
A spokeswoman for MSNBC has declined to comment. While the edited segment is not available on MSNBC’s website, and the unedited version was eventually aired on a subsequent Martin Bashir show and other shows on the networks, conservative activists have already pounced. One version, uploaded to YouTube and embedded below, shows Bashir’s version followed by Heslin’s unedited testimony.
The incident has been the subject of talk radio and other conservative media, which has used it to boost assertions that NBC, MSNBC and much of the mainstream media is biased in favor of liberalism. Indeed, several journalists took MSNBC’s reporting at face value and echoed it, including reporters at The Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Slate, Media Matters for America and many others collected at the right-wing site, Twitchy.
“The full, unedited video proves the media is lying. This is not heckling, this is someone respectfully asking a question and receiving a respectful answer,” wrote John Nolte at Breitbart.com.
National radio host Cam Edwards of NRA News spent nearly 20 minutes ripping MSNBC for “as egregious an edit as you can possibly get.” The conservative Media Research Center wrote that “MSNBC’s disgusting lack of journalistic standards have hit a new low.”
It wasn't only conservative media that disagreed with MSNBC's interpretation. CNN's Anderson Cooper, for example, originally tweeted that Heslin was "shouted down," but after seeing the full video, he tweeted: "#SandyHook parent wasn't 'shouted down' as I said in previous tweet. He asked for response and audiences members gave it and were admonished."
The network's critics also have been likening the incident to the one last spring where NBC edited a 911 tape to make it appear that George Zimmerman invoked Trayvon Martin’s skin color when he killed him, taking out the portion where the 911 operator specifically asks Zimmerman to describe Martin’s race. That episode led to at least three people being fired.
Though MSNBC has declined to comment, the network seems to be standing its ground for now, beginning with Lawrence O’Donnell defending the edited video Tuesday on his show, The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. “Here is what led to a grieving father being heckled by the gun-worshipping fanatics in the audience,”O’Donnell said on his show Tuesday before playing the unedited portion of Heslin’s testimony. Then he said: “Some right-wing websites sprung to the defense of the hecklers, insisting that they were simply answering Mr. Heslin’s question, but of course they weren't."
And on Wednesday during Martin Bashir, substitute host Ari Melber said: “On Monday on our program we heard a portion of a hearing where we heard from Neil Heslin … we have received a number of comments over the past two days so we’re going to play the relevant portion of that testimony in full.”
See the segment below.
“Martin and many others who saw Mr. Heslin’s testimony, have called that interruption heckling,” Melber said. “Some disagree. He wanted you to hear it in full, so you can draw your own conclusion.”
The conservative site NewsBusters quickly chimed in with: "Had Mr. Bashir really wanted his audience to hear the complete video in full, wouldn't he have done so in the first place?"