The Virginia gun rights group whose members were deceptively portrayed in Katie Couric's documentary Under the Gun filed a $12 million defamation lawsuit against the Yahoo News anchor on Tuesday.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League filed the suit in federal court against Couric, as well as the documentary’s director Stephanie Soechtig, Atlas Films, and the cable channel Epix.
"We were horrified to see how Couric and her team manipulated us and the video footage to make us look like fools who didn’t stand up for the Second Amendment," said Philip Van Cleave, the group's president. "We want to set the record straight and hold them accountable for what they’ve done. You shouldn’t intentionally misrepresent someone’s views just because you disagree with them."
A portion of the documentary appeared to show Couric stumping several of the group's members with a question about background checks and terrorism.
"If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?" Couric asked the group. The film then shows the group sitting silently for nine seconds before cutting away from the interview.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported in May, raw audio of the exchange showed that gun rights activists immediately offered answers to Couric's questions.
The Free Beacon later reported on accusations that Couric’s previous documentary, Fed Up, also had deceptively edited interviews. The Weinstein Company attempted to take down video clips at the center of the story shortly after they were posted to YouTube. The videos were temporarily pulled from YouTube, but were eventually reinstated.
Van Cleave said he was upset that the gun documentary was still available with the misleading edit included.
"Katie Couric has publicly admitted that ‘Under the Gun' was misleading and misrepresented VCDL, but has done nothing to fix it or stop promoting and distributing it," Van Cleave said.
Libby Locke, the group’s lawyer, called Couric and Soechtig "manipulators" and accused them of misleading members about how they'd be portrayed in the film.
"They manipulated the footage to manufacture a fictional exchange that never happened," she said. "And, worst of all, they manipulated their own audience into believing that the VCDL members had been stumped by this Katie Couric question. This lawsuit is really the only way to hold Katie Couric and Stephanie Soechtig accountable for their misleading journalism."
She said the $12 million lawsuit was necessary to recoup the damage done to the reputations of the group’s members, especially the reputations of members who make their living in the firearms industry.
"When you harm someone's reputation and their livelihood those are serious damages that have been caused," Locke said. "The number was selected to represent the seriousness of the damage that has been caused."
Locke said she and the group are confident the suit will succeed.
An Epix spokeswoman dismissed the lawsuit as meritless and said that the channel should not have been included as a party to the lawsuit.
"The claims against EPIX in this lawsuit are completely without merit," said Nora Ryan, the Epix spokeswoman. "'Under the Gun' premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it received critical acclaim. EPIX saw the Sundance screening and acquired the documentary at that time. The network had no role in its creation or production and should therefore not be a party to this lawsuit.
A comment request sent through the Under the Gun website was not immediately returned.
UPDATE 1:15 P.M.: This post was updated to reflect comment from an Epix spokesperson.
UPDATE 2:10 P.M.: This post has been updated with a revised statement from Epix. The first comment submitted by Epix began, "This lawsuit is completely without merit…"