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PBS Standards

Ethically Editing an Interview
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Two men and a woman sitting for an interview

Did a documentary producer deserve push-back over the juxtaposition of a question and response?


Here’s the Situation:

A documentary film about the debate over gun control shows the interviewer, Quinley Inquisitor, asking members of a gun rights organization the following question: “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”

That question is followed in the film by eight seconds of silence as members of the gun rights group are shown looking away or at the floor.

After the film aired, the president of the gun rights group released an audiotape of the interview. In the recording, Quinley prefaced her question on background checks by stating “I know how you all are going to answer this, but I’m going to ask it anyway.”

Her question also was followed by an immediate reply from a member of the gun rights group: “Well, one — if you’re not in jail, you should still have your basic rights.” More back-and-forth between Quinley and the group then follows.

Critics said the film’s edit gave the intentionally false impression that members of the gun rights group had no answer to Quinley’s question.

The film’s director and producer defended the edit, stating “My intention was to provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question before presenting the facts on Americans' opinions on background checks. I never intended to make anyone look bad and I apologize if anyone felt that way.”


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