Yesterday, in Hartford, Connecticut, state legislators held a hearing on gun control. Neil Heslin, the father of one of the Sandy Hook victims, testified in favor. Within hours, various media, most notably The Telegraph in the U.K., reported something rather disturbing:
The tearful father’s testimony was interrupted by up to a dozen members of the audience shouting ‘Second Amendment!’
The headline over the Telegraph story: Gun activists heckle father of child killed at Sandy Hook. Hundreds of thousands of angry people, most of them decent human beings without the intent to deceive, instantly spread the story far and wide via social media and bulletin boards.
The Huffington Post piled on with almost the same headline. Screenshots of these stories were annotated and presented as proof positive of the viciousness of gun owners. Like so:
Meanwhile, the British paper posted an edited video version of the incident — but oddly enough, the footage didn’t seem to support the claim that heckling took place. And the single cut occurred at a moment that made me a little suspicious. The Huffington Post posted its own bizarrely edited video, apparently via CBS.
And then, no thanks to the Telegraph or the HuffPo, the unedited version emerged, and so we can all see for ourselves the willful deception that took place. What neither the U.K. paper nor the U.S. website reported, and in fact took pains to conceal, is that Mr. Heslin asked emphatically whether anybody in the room could think of a reason why people should have rifles (he calls them “assault-style weapons”). He paused. He invited an answer. And after a few seconds’ silence, some people at the back of the room gave him one: “The Second Amendment.” No angry yelling. No interruptions. No heckling of any kind.
Here’s the complete, uncut video. The exchange starts at 13:30. No matter where you stand on guns and gun control, the media coverage, especially in The Telegraph and the Huffington Post, should give you pause.
Then again, why call out only those two? This was a veritable media clusterfuck, the likes of which I don’t recall. It cut straight across the ideological divide, considering that even the rightwing Drudge Report and the equally conservative Business Insider reflexively parroted the story, no factchecking needed. Very similar articles, all containing the same false accusation, soon appeared in The Daily Beast, MSN.com, Slate (notice how the URL betrays the original “hecklers” headline, later amended), Democratic Underground, Salon, Gawker, the New York Daily News, the Connecticut Post, Jezebel, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Buzzfeed, The (U.K.) Independent — and, of course, on Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed. This is by no means a complete list.
P.S. I became aware of the Telegraph story this morning through a friend of a friend, who shared an annotated screenshot of it on her Facebook page, courtesy of a group called Anti-Republican Crusaders. So it seemed right to clue them in. Maybe the ARC administrators weren’t aware of the deception.
Now, I’ve done quite a bit of anti-Republican crusading myself, and still do. But it turns out that I have precious little in common with the group. When I went to the ARC Facebook page to post my findings and the unedited video, pretty civilly I thought, whoever administers the group yanked my comment within the hour, and banned me from making further ones. So the comment exposing the lie is gone, but the entirely fallacious text and graphic itself survives just fine on the group’s page.
Genuine public discourse? So inconvenient. Let’s just be deliberately deaf and blind, and keep angrily reciting our learned-by-rote articles of faith.
Make no mistake: This is too often the prevailing attitude in both camps.
P.P.S. See how many words it took to paint (and prove) the deception? I’ve long found this depressing. A good lie is always brief, and fleet of foot. A debunking of it is always long, arduous, and slow to spread. The latter will almost never reach the distribution of the former.
And so it goes.
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.