North Dakota troublemakers still making trouble

Some good news for the ol' First Amendment Monday, as a judge dismissed charges of participating in a riot against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman for covering protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Goodman and her video crew, you'll recall, recorded pipeline security guards siccing dogs on people protesting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe say threatens sacred sites as well as their water supply, since the pipeline would go under the Missouri River.

The charges against Goodman were totally justified, said McLean County State's Attorney Ladd Erickson, because he didn't believe she was a real journalist anyway. Erickson acknowledged that Goodman was indeed interviewing participants in the protests, documented the attacks on protesters, and attempted to interview company employees, but even if she had a microphone and all, that doesn't excuse her for being on private property with a bunch of trouble-making Native Americans and hippies:

"She's a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions," said Erickson, adding that her coverage of the Sept. 3 protest did not mention that people trespassed during the incident or the alleged assaults on guards.

"Is everybody that's putting out a YouTube video from down there a journalist down there, too?" he asked.

After all, Goodman has only hosted Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! since 1996, so it's not like she's an established reporter or anything. More importantly, she didn't report the story fairly enough for the prosecutor's tastes, so that means she wasn't doing real journamalism. It's that kind of forward-thinking approach to putting journalists in jail that we could look forward to under a Trump administration, maybe!

Goodman's attorney considered the charges nonsense and a clear attack on the First Amendment, but Goodman traveled to North Dakota to be ready to be arrested anyway, because 1) she does the law-abiding thing, and B) how could she miss the chance to report on something as absurd as her own prosecution for doing journalism? Originally charging her with criminal trespass, prosecutors changed the charge to participating in a riot, apparently because they couldn't prove where she actually was. Erickson said last week Goodman couldn't expect special treatment just because she thinks her silly little radio program is protected by the Constitution:

"I think she put together a piece to influence the world on her agenda, basically. That’s fine, but it doesn’t immunize her from the laws of her state," Erickson said.

Goodman told the LA Times she sees things a bit differently:

We have a 1st Amendment. Is he saying that journalism is a crime? I think what he’s doing is sending a message to reporters: "Do not come to North Dakota."

Ya think? She has a point, though -- knowing things just stirs people up and makes them unhappy, and if her videos of dogs with protesters' blood on their teeth and muzzles hadn't gotten out, North Dakota authorities and the pipeline company would have a lot fewer headaches. Why can't reporters focus on happy things, anyway?

As it turned out, District Judge John Grinsteiner dropped the charges against Goodman Monday, finding no probable cause for prosecution. Goodman, understandably, appears to think this was good for freedom of the press:

“This is a complete vindication of my right as a journalist to cover the attack on the protesters, and of the public’s right to know what is happening with the Dakota Access pipeline,” said Goodman. "We will continue to report on this epic struggle of Native Americans and their non-Native allies taking on the fossil fuel industry and an increasingly militarized police in this time when climate change threatens the planet."

Well, yes, but who'll speak up for the poor pipeline builders? All they have is tons of money and political influence, security guards with vicious attack dogs, and a local law enforcement apparatus that seems happy to crack down on protesters and try to silence journalists. But nobody seems to be making YouTube videos for them. It just doesn't seem fair, somehow.

The protests continue as a court case against the pipeline goes forward; thanks to the dismissal of the charges against Goodman, it now appears the only chilling effect for those covering the protests will be the North Dakota winter. Dress warm, everybody. And remember to layer -- not just for warmth, but as a little extra protection from the attack dogs.

[Grist / LAT / Grand Forks Herald / Bismarck Tribune / Democracy Now!]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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