When Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman (9/4/16) asked security guards at the Dakota Access Pipeline construction project why they were using pepper spray and dogs to attack Native American protesters, the guards soon backed off, taking their mace and attack dogs with them. It was a dramatic lesson in how journalism can defend the rights of citizens.
The state of North Dakota had a response to this kind of journalism: It issued a warrant for Goodman’s arrest, charging her with criminal trespassing. This is an extraordinary action; Jack McDonald, a lawyer for the North Dakota Newspaper Association and for the Bismarck Tribune, told the Tribune that in 40 years of doing media law in the state he’s never heard of a reporter being charged with trespassing (9/15/16).
So how did reporters respond to one of their own being threatened with arrest for doing her job? Mostly, they ignored it. The story was covered locally, in the Bismarck Tribune (9/15/16), and internationally, in the British Guardian (9/12/16) and a mention in the Toronto Star (9/13/16). The Committee to Protect Journalists (9/12/16) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Representative on Freedom of the Media (9/14/16) put out statements calling on the state to drop the charges.
But most national corporate media outlets—the ones who complain about not getting a seat on a candidate’s plane—breathed not a word on North Dakota’s assault on the press’s ability to cover a major story of the moment. (The internet-based Salon—9/12/16—and Mashable—9/11/16—deserve credit as exceptions.) Elite media coverage of a million issues makes clear that they don’t mind taking sides. It’s a real shame they won’t take the side of the right to do journalism when and where it matters.