Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Unarmed Water Defenders were shot with water cannons while praying at the front line. (Image: Avery White/Youth Radio)

‘Nothing to See Here’ Headlines Conceal Police Violence at Dakota Access

The New York Times (11/21/16) gets a failing grade for its headline over a report on escalating police violence against Native American activists and others defending the Missouri River against the Dakota Access Pipeline:

16 Arrested at North Dakota Pipeline Protest

Sorry, New York Times–when more than 470 people have been arrested opposing the pipeline since August, that’s not the news. Nor did the print edition headline—“16 Arrested at North Dakota Pipeline Protest as Tensions Continue”—add anything.

No, the news in the story came in the second paragraph, where reporter Jonah Engel Bromwich wrote that “officials also defended their use of fire hoses against protesters the night before, despite the below-freezing weather.”

Perhaps Times editors thought that wasn’t news, because police use of “water cannons” against demonstrators was mentioned in an AP report that ran on the Times website the day before (11/20/16) under the anodyne headline “Police, Protesters Face Off at Dakota Access Pipeline.” If that was the case, editors could have found more pressing information than the arrest count in the eighth paragraph of the latest story:

Dallas Goldtooth, a spokesman for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a phone interview on Monday that the Oceti Sakowin medical team, which had been working in tandem with medics from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, had reported that nearly 200 people were injured and 12 people were hospitalized for head injuries. One protester went into cardiac arrest and was revived by the medic team, he said.

NPR’s website (11/21/16) likewise reported the story of police violence leading to widespread injuries under an innocuous headline: “Police, Protesters Clash Near Dakota Access Pipeline Route,” as did ABC News (11/21/16) with its “Hundreds of Dakota Access Protesters Clash With Police.” This “clash” framing—also utilized in headlines on CBS (11/20/16) and CNN (11/20/16)—implies a parity between police in military vehicles, employing water cannon, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber-coated bullets and concussion grenades (one of which may have cost an activist her arm), on the one hand, and basically unarmed civilians on the other. (Police say one officer was hit in the head by a thrown rock.)

One almost gets the sense that editors writing headlines like these have enlisted themselves on the sheriff’s team, waving spectators away with a “nothing to see here, folks.”

The Washington Post (11/21/16) got the news into the headline, but framed it from a police perspective: “Police Defend Use of Water Cannons on Dakota Access Protesters in Freezing Weather.”

Some headlines did a better job of focusing on what was actually new  while conveying a sense of the shocking violence employed by militarized police against people defending their water supply:

  • “Officers Douse Dakota Access Oil Pipeline Protesters With Water in Subfreezing Weather” (Denver Post, 11/21/16)
  • “Dakota Pipeline: Protesters Soaked With Water in Freezing Temperature” (NBCNews.com, 11/21/16)
  • “Dakota Access Pipeline: 300 Protesters Injured After Police Use Water Cannons” (Guardian, 11/21/16)
  • “Dakota Access Pipeline Protester May Lose Her Arm After Small Explosion, Activists Say” (LA Times, 11/21/16)

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

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is editor of FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of "Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error." He was an investigative reporter for In These Times and managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Absolutely Shameful': Michigan Judge Drops Flint Water Crisis Charges Against 7 Officials

"This means there are currently no criminal charges over 8 years later," lamented one journalist.

Jake Johnson ·


Trump Turns to SCOTUS Over Mar-a-Lago Docs, But 'It Won't Stop DOJ'

"This is a very specific and narrow request by Trump the merits of which turn on a technical jurisdictional question, but which runs into fatal procedural obstacles long before that," said one analyst. "It's not laughable, but only because it's small."

Jessica Corbett ·


Despite Calls for Diplomacy to End War, US Confirms More Weapons Headed to Ukraine

"Are there still negotiation possibilities?" asked Noam Chomsky. "There's only one way to find out. That's to try. If you refuse to try, of course, there's no option, no possibilities."

Brett Wilkins ·


Groups Warn SCOTUS May Gut 'Foundational' Digital Rights Law

"Weakening Section 230 would be catastrophic—disproportionately silencing and endangering marginalized communities," said one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·


Report Reveals How Utilities' Climate Pledges Amount to 'Textbook Greenwashing'

Despite the passage of nearly $370 billion in renewable energy funding, the nation's utilities are squandering "a massive opportunity for clean electricity and electrification."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo