From a media standpoint, one thing has been very clear regarding coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline event: it’s extremely taboo to report on. I say this because until Amy Goodman, a Democracy Now! journalist, went to the main protest site of what she refers to as “the standoff at Standing Rock” on September 3, not one of the major American broadcast networks had assigned a reporter to go onsite to report, nor had they even mentioned the protest on air.
Earlier today, on Monday, October 17, 2016, Amy Goodman was set to walk into the Morton County–Mandan Combined Law Enforcement and Corrections Center to turn herself into the local authorities. Goodman was charged with rioting, even though she was simply onsite to report the news. Even though the charges have now been dropped, this still speaks volumes about mainstream media and the US legal system.
Last month, the award-winning journalist and host of Democracy Now! took it upon herself to go to the months-long protest where thousands of Native Americans are standing up against the construction of the $3.8 billion oil pipeline called the Dakota Access Pipeline. The project was set to carry Bakken crude through what is believed to be sacred sites and burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The tribe fears it could pollute the Missouri River, which would in turn destroy theirs and millions of other people’s drinking water. The protests signify the largest mobilization of Native American activists in over 40 years.
Despite the lack of coverage from mainstream media, Goodman went to the scene to report on what was anticipated to be an incredible news story. Hundreds of protestors were trying to stop a crew of bulldozers from digging up the earth—this earth, which DAPL says, “belongs to nobody.” However, the protestors were greeted by private security contractors with attack dogs and pepper spray.
“People have gone through the fence, men, women, and children,” Goodman reported through a microphone at the protest. “The bulldozers are still going, and they’re yelling at the men in hard hats. One man in a hard hat threw one of the protesters down,” she explained.
Meanwhile, a security contractor pummelled a man to the ground causing protestors to flock to his aid. Helicopters hovered overhead and protestors reported burning eyes and being physically harmed by the dogs.
“Why are you letting the dog go after the protesters?” Goodman questioned a security contractor while a woman screamed in the background. “It’s covered in blood!” she exclaimed.
Goodman’s reporting resulted in a seven-minute video released on the web mere hours after the event, while a detailed report followed three days later that was broadcasted live on her show. The video went viral almost immediately, eventually landing on the very news stations who had been ignoring the protests: CNN, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and NPR.
Even though Goodman’s journalism ultimately led to a breakthrough in the media’s silence on an incredibly important issue, and likely provoked the Obama administration to halt work on the pipeline several days later, she was hit with a warrant for her arrest and charged with riot, which is a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine.
The prosecutor, Ladd Erickson, told the Grand Forks Herald that Goodman is not a journalist. “She’s a protester, basically… Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions,” Erickson said. In The Bismarck Tribune, he said, “I think she put together a piece to influence the world on her agenda, basically. That’s fine, but it doesn’t immunize her from the laws of her state.”
This begs the question: How is Amy Goodman not a journalist? She didn’t go to the protest with pepper spray, an attack dog, or a colourful sign relaying her feelings of dismay over the DAPL. Instead, Goodman carried a Democracy Now! microphone, came with a video crew, identified herself as a reporter, and broadcasted the resulting video on the daily news program she has had the privilege of hosting for the past 20 years.
“This arrest warrant is a transparent attempt to intimidate reporters from covering protests of significant public interest,” Carlos Lauría, a senior program coordinator for the Americas at CPJ, explained. “Authorities in North Dakota should stop embarrassing themselves, drop the charges against Amy Goodman, and ensure that all reporters are free to do their jobs,” Carlos added.
On Friday Goodman made note of her reasoning for turning herself in in an interview with The Real News Network:
“The important issue is that the prosecutor is raising the content of our coverage. That is why we have a First Amendment. It’s the separation of the state from journalism. You know, we are not supposed to have state journalism here. There’s a reason why our profession is the only one explicitly protected in the U.S. Constitution – because we’re supposed to be the check and balance on power. If the state doesn’t like what we are reporting, that is not an arrestable offense. And if it is, our democracy is in big trouble.”
Listen to more of her empowering words below:
In a video, she said:
“The original charge against me was criminal trespass. Yet, on Friday, after we returned to North Dakota to challenge the charges and to continue covering the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline, we learned that the state’s attorney, Ladd Erickson, had dropped the criminal trespass charge for lack of evidence, but had filed a new charge against me: riot. If Judge John Grinsteiner approves the new riot charge today, I’ll be appearing in court today at 1:30 p.m. North Dakota time to challenge it. For updates throughout the day, go to democracynow.org.”
Thankfully, after approximately one month, the charges against Goodman were finally dropped earlier today. Even though the case against her was dismissed, the entire situation still speaks volumes about mainstream media. Even though the DAPL is an issue that affects millions of Americans and has been reported on continuously by alternative news outlets, the mainstream media failed to cover it. Mainstream news only covered the story once a well-known journalist was arrested, instilling fear onto viewers and other journalists. It is clear that even if journalists wanted to report on these types of subject, they would likely be punished and could even face fines or jail time as a result.