It’s been an interesting few months for those covering the protests around the Dakota Access Pipeline. In September, presidential candidate Jill Stein had charges filed against her after she joined protests against the pipeline. Last week, actress Shailene Woodley was arrested for also joining protests against the pipeline. This weekend, arguably, the most interesting thing happened. Amy Goodman, an award winning journalist for “Democracy Now!” had riot charges filed against her because of her coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Ladd Erickson, a state prosecutor, filed the charges because he believed that Goodman’s coverage was biased in favor of the protestors.
On Monday, a judge rejected the case because there was a lack of evidence.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,172 mile stretch of underground piping that will stretch from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline will transport over 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
While the company argues that the pipeline will have zero major impact on the local environment, others feel differently. Members of the First Nation, specifically the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, feel the pipeline will be a major threat to the environment and to their culture. It will go through an area that is a historical burial ground for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe as well as other groups. If the pipeline is implemented, it will disrupt the area. The tribe is also worried about what will happen if the pipe is damaged near the Missouri River. The river is the primary source of fresh-water for many people, and protestors believe that any damage to that water source could have huge consequences.
Over the past few months, people have been protesting peacefully and have been met with violence by private security forces. News organizations including “Democracy Now!” have been out covering the responses from both sides. Following her trial, Goodman promised that her show would keep covering the protests. Erickson also promised that he would keep looking for charges that he could file against her. Erickson’s desire to arrest Goodman is a direct attack on the First Amendment.
The First Amendment protects many rights including the freedom of the press. Erickson is a lawyer and should at his core be working to protect those kind of rights. This is the second time that the prosecutor has failed to actually press any real charges against Goodman. In September, Erickson tried to push a trespassing charge but could not come up with enough real evidence to actually pursue the case. If the videos of the protests are anything to go by, then Erickson is going after the wrong people in his attempt to find justice at these protests.
The attempted arrest of a journalist doing their job is a part of a much bigger story than just Erickson. Anyone who has followed any news this past year has heard rhetoric about how someone somewhere is trying to take away your rights. The right has accused the left of trying to take away the second amendment. The left has accused the right of trying to get rid of freedom of speech and expression. And in the chaos of all of that someone, actually tried to actively take away the freedom of the press.
It’s 2016 and the media has never been under more attack than it is right now. Amy Goodman’s arrest shows now, more than ever, we need the media and journalists to help tell the real story. People on both sides of the aisle hate the media for reporting on exactly what happens mainly because it disagrees with what they believe. Yet the media and, more specifically, journalists play a crucial role in the functioning of society. Journalists dig up the stories that nobody is talking about. They pursue and badger people so the world can know the true story. They help show the world what is really happening, no matter what the cost is.
Ladd Erickson went after Amy Goodman because, according to him, her coverage incited a riot. He plans to further investigate because he believes that Goodman’s coverage is more biased towards the protestors. And maybe he is right. Maybe Goodman’s coverage is a little bit more biased then normal, but the story she is trying to tell is not. Maybe Erickson should be trying a little harder to actually fix the issues happening between protesters and the security forces. Maybe he should be trying to stop those trying to cause violence, not those trying to tell the story.
Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and opinion’s staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org.