Katie Couric’s 2014 documentary Fed Up includes instances of deceptive editing similar to 2016’s Under the Gun, according to several people familiar with the making of the film.
Fed Up, which focuses on obesity and the food industry, was directed by Stephanie Soechtig and produced by Couric. The film includes two interviews with figures who hold viewpoints counter to the narrative of the film, and sources say both interviews include at least one misleading or deceptive edit intended to embarrass the interviewee.
Recent Stories in Culture
Dr. David Allison, an interview subject in the film and the director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center, says he was a victim of shoddy journalism. "What she did to me is antithetical to not only just human decency and civility but it is antithetical to the spirit of science and democratic dialogue," he told the Washington Free Beacon.
After a brief exchange in the film between Allison and Couric over whether or not sugary beverages contribute more to obesity than other foods, Couric asks Allison about the science behind his objections. Allison then begins to explain before stumbling and asking Couric if he could pause to "get his thoughts together."
Allison said Couric had told him it would be all right to pause and gather his thoughts at any point during the interview if he felt he needed to.
"Ms. Couric had said to me at the beginning of our interview ‘You know, Dr. Allison, if at any point you need to go over an answer, you stumble on your words, just let me know, we'll stop, and you can go back over it,'" he said.
Couric responds to Allison’s on camera request by saying "Okay," but the film shows Dr. Allison sitting silently for another seven seconds before cutting to another interview.
Allison is not shown again in the film.
After the pause depicted in the film Allison said he did provide an answer to Couric's question. "I had what I thought was a very cogent answer," he said. "Of course I gave an answer. I gave an answer to every question she asked me in a 90-minute interview that was a barrage of questions. And out of a 90-minute interview she chose to show the approximately 10 seconds when I paused and said, ‘Let me collect my thoughts.'"
He said Couric's request that he use layman's terms during his answers led to the stumble seen in the film.
A second accusation comes from a scene featuring an interview between Soechtig and Lisa Gable, a spokesperson for the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. Industry sources say audio of Soechtig’s voice was edited into an interview in an effort to embarrass the spokesperson.
The scene in question features Soechtig and Gable discussing whether the food industry would remove products from store shelves under a deal struck with the White House. At the end of the exchange the director can be heard off camera saying Gable was avoiding her question. The spokesperson is then shown sitting silently for about three seconds before the film cuts to another interview.
"She is badgered about companies’ willingness to reformulate their products, to which the producer answers, ‘It feels like you’re avoiding the question,'" an industry source told the Free Beacon. But "that response from the producer didn’t actually follow that particular exchange and was edited to make it look like that was how their conversation actually went."
A second person with knowledge of the incident confirmed the account, and said "It was apparent in the Fed Up documentary that all interviewees were not treated equally."
Numerous email and telephone requests for comment to Couric and Soechtig received no response.
The new accusations of misleading editing in Fed Up comes after of criticism of a deceptive edit included in Couric and Soechtig's 2016 documentary Under the Gun. The filmmakers edited in several seconds of silence during a scene featuring Couric questioning a group of gun rights activists. An audio recording of the interview shows the silence did not occur.
The Washington Post criticized Couric's role in the Under the Gun edit but also noted that it is "one instance of bad judgment in a long career."
Couric posted a message on the Under the Gun website in response to the controversy. She said she takes responsibility for what happened and regrets that the inserted silence was misleading. Since then the filmmakers have been accused of breaking federal firearms laws during the production, and others interviewed for film have come forward to complain about being excluded from the final cut.
John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said a four-hour interview he did with Under the Gun producers was left on the cutting room floor. Virginia Citizens Defense League president Philip Van Cleave said his two-hour interview was also cut from the documentary.
"Couric’s approach appears to be to protect her viewers from even knowing that there are any arguments on the other side," Lott said.
Allison says the actions of Couric and her team have undercut the trust the public has in journalists.
"Obviously it's no fun when you're the one who's made to look bad but I don't really see that as the key point. I think the key point for our society as a whole is, can we trust journalists?"