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Activists confront construction activities, which they say deliberately targeted sacred sites to 'provoke violence.' (Photo: AFP/Getty)

48 Words at 4 AM Is All Network News Has to Say About Pipeline Protests

The broadcast news networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—have aired exactly one report on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests since the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe began an encampment against the project in April, according to a search of the Nexis news database. That report, read by Anne-Marie Green, aired on the CBS Morning News at 4 a.m. on September 5. Here it is in its entirety:

National Public Radio reports violence during demonstrations against a proposed oil pipeline in North Dakota. Protestors confronted workers Saturday at a construction site. Police say four private security guards and two guard dogs were hurt. Tribal officials say the construction destroyed an Indian burial ground and cultural sites.

Those 48 words are a one-sided retelling of an NPR report (“Dakota Access Pipeline Protests in North Dakota Turn Violent,” 9/4/16), which in turn gets most of its information, as well as its anti-protester spin, from an AP story, “Oil Pipeline Protest Turns Violent in North Dakota” (9/4/16).

But the report on NPR‘s website also contains video footage from Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! (9/4/16), who—apparently unlike any of her colleagues from network TV—thought the largest mobilization of indigenous activists against environmental degradation was worth reporting on. Goodman’s footage shows the construction project’s security guards wielding pepper spray and deploying attack dogs to provoke and injure demonstrators—violence on the part of the pipeline authorities that got left out of CBS‘s rip-and-read on the protests.

Also missing from what is so far the entirety of broadcast TV news’ coverage of the Dakota Access protest is any mention of the threat the pipeline poses to water resources—the pipeline crosses the Missouri River just half a mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation—or the climate destruction facilitated by pipelines designed to ship fracked oil out to consumers.

But I suppose that if you’re only going to give a story 48 words of coverage, at four o’clock on a single morning, there’s only so much you can say.


© 2021 Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of  "Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error," and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

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