Freedom of the press under fire with reporter’s charge

The North Dakota Access Pipeline has become a source of major contention in the United States. Its construction (or perhaps more accurately, the protest of its construction) has made for a bizarre melting pot of friends and adversaries between environmentalists, Native Americans, state and federal governments and Dakota Access LLC.

There have been lawsuits, sit-ins, vandalism, destruction of property — the list goes on.

While the story did receive some cursory coverage from major media sources, the situation wasn’t covered extensively by mainstream media until allegations came forth that a private security force at the site was spraying protesters with pepper spray and using guard dogs — guard dogs that were biting protesters.

Journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! first broke the story of the guards using dogs and pepper spray against the protesters on Sept. 3. Her footage and interviews spread like wildfire throughout social media platforms and was heavily sourced by major news outlets in their nightly broadcasts.

Days later, an arrest warrant from Morton County, N.D., was issued for Goodman for criminal trespassing.

Let that sink in … An arrest warrant. For a journalist covering a story. Outrageous.

“This is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” Goodman said in a statement. “I was doing my job by covering pipeline guards unleashing dogs and pepper spray on Native American protesters.”

Democracy Now! writes: “According to the criminal complaint against Goodman, the charges are based on a viewing of Democracy Now!’s video report of the incident, conducted by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Special Agent Lindsey Wohl’s sworn affidavit states that Goodman was there as a journalist.

“Wohl wrote, ‘Amy Goodman can be seen on the video identifying herself and interviewing protesters [sic] about their involvement in the protest.’

“The criminal complaint was approved by Assistant State’s Attorney for Morton County Gabrielle J. Goter.”

Is trespassing illegal? Sure, but let’s be clear: This wasn’t a case of a sleazy paparazzi climbing a tree to get photos of some actress in a bikini. By all accounts, this is a legitimate news story — by a woman who identified herself as a journalist — with the potential to have historic ramifications legally, environmentally and culturally.

It is a story absolutely deserving of both column inches and airtime.

It is also worth noting that none of the security officers on the scene have been charged with any assault charges for their actions against the protesters.

Democracy Now! has been reportedly consulting with attorneys since Goodman’s warrant was issued both locally in North Dakota and at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

In a statement, the Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Baher Azmy, called the warrant a clear “violation of the First Amendment … an attempt to repress this important political movement by silencing media coverage.”

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe sued the Army Corps of Engineers in July over the permit for the pipeline that was issued to the developer. The Tribe’s position was that they had not been properly consulted before the permit had been granted and that if the pipe were to fail, a spill would be “culturally and economically catastrophic.”

Following Judge James Boasberg denial of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction against the pipeline, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Department of Justice and the Army Corps of Engineers issued a joint statement that halted — albeit temporarily — all construction at the location bordering Lake Oahe on the Missouri.

Goodman is still facing charges.

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