Newtown Sandy Hook Neil Heslin hearing video: MSNBC criticized for editing gun control testimony
7:30 AM, Jan 31, 2013
DAVID BAUDER,AP Television Writer
NEW YORK -- MSNBC invited viewers Wednesday to draw their own conclusions about whether the parent of a Connecticut school shooting victim was heckled at a legislative hearing but didn't address criticism that it aired a deceptively edited video of the event.
The NBC-owned cable news network found itself under attack for its editing practices less than a year after three employees of NBC or an NBC-owned station lost their jobs over the editing of a 911 call in the Trayvon Martin case.
On Monday, MSNBC's Martin Bashir reported on hearing testimony given that day by Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was killed last month in the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
In the hushed hearing room, Heslin 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-type weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips?"
Heslin paused for five seconds and looked around him. No one else spoke.
"Not one person can answer that question," he said.
Then, someone in the audience shouted: "The Second Amendment shall not be infringed."
After the audience was admonished by a legislator not to speak, Heslin said, "Anyway, we're all entitled to our own opinion, and I respect their opinions and thoughts, but I wish they'd respect mine and give it a little bit of thought."
Video aired by Bashir Monday omitted the challenge, depicting Heslin saying: "Why anybody in this room needs to have ... one of these assault-type weapons or military weapons." At that point, without any pause, the audience member's interjection about the Second Amendment was heard. Heslin's comment about respecting opinions was omitted.
The camera then focused on Bashir, who said, "a father's grief interrupted by the cries of a heckler."
The passage as aired by MSNBC received criticism for being deceptive.
"This is not how a legitimate, professional news organization operates," said Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog. "MSNBC's relentless anti-gun advocacy is bad enough, but this is downright dishonest."
MSNBC spokeswoman Lauren Skowronski did not immediately address questions about why MSNBC made the changes or whether criticism that it was misleading is valid.
Bashir was out sick on Wednesday, but substitute anchor Ari Melber said Bashir had made note of questions about whether Heslin had been heckled. MSNBC then played an unedited video of the passage in question.
"Martin and others have called that interruption heckling," Melber said. "Some disagree. He wanted you to hear that in full so you can draw your own conclusions."
Melber said nothing on the air about the fact that it initially aired an edited portion of the video.
Last spring, NBC's "Today" show and its Miami station WTVJ aired versions of a police emergency call made by Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman that emphasized his identification of Trayvon Martin as a black man, before Zimmerman shot Martin. Zimmerman had given his description of Martin after a dispatcher asked about his race but that portion of the tape wasn't initially aired. NBC later apologized.