Spin Cycle

02.24.13

Distorted Video Makes McCain Look Heartless Over Mass Shooting

MSNBC, websites pick up misleading editing by Phoenix station

The media have misfired when it comes to John McCain and guns.

A videotape of a town hall meeting appears to show the Arizona senator reacting insensitively to a mother who lost her son in the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo.

But it turns out the tape was edited in a distorted fashion.

Several national news outlets picked up the truncated video, which was edited by Phoenix television station KTVK.

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Win McNamee / Getty Images

At the town hall on Wednesday, Caren Teves told the senator that her 24-year-old son was among those murdered at a midnight showing of a Batman movie and that she wanted a ban on assault weapons. “These assault weapons allow a shooter to fire many rounds without having to reload," she said. "These weapons don’t belong on our streets.”

The station's video shows McCain responding that “I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons’ ban will not pass the Congress of the United States.” 

What was cut out was significant.

In the full version, available on YouTube, McCain told Teves: “Well, first of all can I say thank you and God bless … Our hearts and our prayers go out to you and your family. I just had a town hall meeting yesterday in Tucson and the people who were affected by the terrible, tragic shooting there. I met with Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords in my office last week on this issue – as you know they are becoming, understandably, great advocates on this issue, and I will continue that conversation.”

Brian Rogers, McCain’s communications director, gave me this statement: “This is an obvious case of selective editing to distort what Senator McCain actually said at Wednesday’s town hall meeting. As Senator McCain clearly said, his heart goes out to Mrs. Teves and her family and he is committed to working with members of both parties to try and prevent another senseless tragedy. “

When MSNBC aired the clip, host Rachel Maddow allowed for the possibility that it was not a fair depiction:

“That`s the footage that was aired by Channel 3 in Phoenix. Obviously, there was an edit between the end of the woman`s question and the part where John McCain sneers the straight talk line at her. So, maybe that edit was cut in a way that`s not fair to John McCain. Maybe he really wasn`t in real time so insensitive and abrasive to a woman who probably deserves some sensitivity when she is talked to about these matters.”

Maddow was right; it was not fair.

TPM and the Huffington Post both ran stories based on the edited video. McCain’s office has been seeking corrections. “We don't expect MSNBC and other liberal outlets to agree with Senator McCain, but they should be expected to fulfill their basic journalistic responsibilities to represent his comments accurately and in context," Rogers says.

A TPM reporter interviewed Teves, who made clear she was not happy with McCain’s response and said her husband had gotten a form letter after writing to his office about the tragedy.

“I was very surprised that a senator, who has been in office for over 30 years, would address a grieving mother, who just lost her son exactly seven months prior -- yesterday was the 20th, I lost my son on 7-20-2012 -- to tell me that I needed ‘some straight talk,’” Teves was quoted as saying.

A grieving mother is certainly entitled to be dissatisfied with McCain’s response. But readers and viewers deserve to see more than a distorted version of the video.