Did the media, specifically MSNBC, intentionally manipulate the video of gun advocates “heckling” the father of a Sandy Hook victim while he gave testimony before the Connecticut legislature? Many media outlets are taking a second look at a clip used on MSNBC’s Martin Bashir alleging that perhaps the network selectively edited the footage to mislead the public and score cheap political points.
Neil Heslin, father of Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis, asked Connecticut legislators “if there is anyone who is in this room that can give me one reason or challenge this question: Why anybody in this room needs to have done of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high capacity clips?” He then paused and said: “Not one person can answer the question.”
At that point, he was “heckled” by gun rights activists present, who shouted “Second Amendment!” at him. Heslin’s look soured into one of sadness and dismay.
Bashir’s clip caused media commentators on the left and the right to denounce the gun rights activists on the scene, with Raw Story, Gawker, Huffington Post, Slate, and The Daily Beast all following suit.
Conservative David Frum opined that each “heckling” activist must have been a “horrible person” to do that to a grieving parent like Heslin. Media Matters‘ Eric Boehlert called the activists “awful people,” and CNN‘s Piers Morgan called the scene “sickening.”
While no one is making excuses for the gun rights advocates’ outburst, the unedited clip paints a slightly different picture. Heslin asks his question just the same, and pauses to look around the room. At this point, he declares “Not one person can answer the question,” inviting response from the crowd. At this point, several voices can be heard shouting “Second Amendment” and “Second Amendment shall not be infringed” to which Heslin responds “Alright,” acknowledging the response.
At that point, the gun rights advocates are admonished by the legislature for speaking out. Heslin continues his testimony uninterrupted.
In light of the full clip, many commentators, including Josh Voorhees of Slate and CNN‘s Anderson Cooper walked back on their previous criticisms with Voorhees calling the clip’s initial characterization “more than a little misleading,” and Anderson Cooper tweeting:
#SandyHook parent wasn’t “shouted down” as I said in previous tweet. He asked for response and audiences members gave it and were admonished
— Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper) January 30, 2013
Meanwhile, other commentators like MSNBC‘s Lawrence O’Donnell “stuck to their guns,” arguing that the scene still constituted “heckling.”
Both clips are below, and you’re invited to decide for yourself whether or not the unedited video still shows “heckling.” But in my humble opinion, this incidence of “Breitbart-style editing” separated the “real” journalists from the ones who seek to mislead and persuade, as many liberal journalists still walked back their criticisms in light of more information.
Furthermore, Heslin’s testimony, though justifiable, understandable, and defensible, did not represent the feelings of all of the Sandy Hook parents who testified that day. In fact, the “heckling” controversy overshadowed the testimonies of other Sandy Hook parents in the media. Mark Mattioli, another Sandy Hook parent, tried to use his testimony to pull the conversation away from guns and onto cultural problems and mental health access. His testimony received little coverage in the mainstream media.
Here are the two clips, via Mediaite: