The charges leveled against Amy are a clear attack on freedom of the press and journalism.
Shortly after the sun rises over the city of Mandan, North Dakota early this Monday morning, the prized journalist, and outstanding host of Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman will walk into the Morton province–Mandan joint Combined Law Enforcement and Corrections Center to turn herself in to the local authorities. Her crime was: good, unwavering journalism.
Goodman had the courage to carry out this journalism on the 3rd of September, when she was in North Dakota covering and recording what she refers to as “Standing Rock face-off”: the months -extended protests carried out by thousands of Native Americans citizens in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. The expensive 3.8 billion dollars oil pipeline is scheduled to carry Bakken crude, barrel after barrel through hallowed sites and burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and members of the tribe fear it may possibly pollute and contaminate the Missouri River, not only the source of their water but that of millions of others’, should the pipe ever burst. Their protests, which started in April and extended through the summer months, represent the largest and biggest mobilization of indigenous American activists in over 40 years—and one of the most important campaigns for environmental justice in perhaps a long time.
On Goodman’s arrival at the main protest location, the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp was noteworthy. At the time of happening, none of the major American broadcast networks had sent a journalist to cover the Standing Rock mobilization; none of them even bothered to talk about it on the air. But Goodman was there, standing at the rim of a green grassy plain that was in the process of being degraded into gullies of dirt, covering on one of the most important stories of the day. Grabbing a large microphone, she captured the view as hundreds of protesters tried frantically to stop a team of bulldozers from slashing and tearing up the earth—the earth, they said, is no mans property—only for them to be confronted and tackled by a force of private security contractors using pepper spray and attack dogs.
“Men and women have gone over the fence, men, women, and whippersnapper,” As Amy reports, her voice stiffen, and then rising, louder and more powerful. “The bulldozers are still going, and they’re shouting at the men in firm hats. One man in a hard hat hurled down one of the protesters!”
As Goodman gives account of, a security contractor, heavily-built in a deep blue shirt, could be seen belly-flopping a man against the ground. Protesters trooped in to help him, staggered over mounds of newly dunged dirt, faced off with contractors whose faces were concealed behind jumbo sunglasses. The scene was indeed full of movement.
In the clouds, a helicopter flew around, circled, while back on the ground, protesters began to give report of burning eyes, and dogs—dogs lurching violently at protesters, dogs vigorously straining against their leashes, dogs with their mouths wide open, and mouths clinging it teeth against each other.
“Why authorizing the dog go after the unarmed protesters?” Goodman could be heard yelling at a security contractor as a woman shouted in the milieu. “It’s all covered in blood!”
Not long after the hours of the unruly attack, Democracy Now! Had turned its video footage into a seven-minute long video that it released as a internet-exclusive. After 3 days, Goodman continued the repetitive televising—“Attacks on American indigenous citizens with Pepper Spray and Dogs by Dakota Access Pipeline Co.”—this she broadcast live on her show. The video footage rapidly went viral, pinging across social media platform such as Twitter and Facebook (where it got more than 14 million views) and landing, eventually, on the same big news stations that, until that instant, hadn’t bothered to cover and broadcast the protests: CBS, NBC, CNN, NPR, and MSNBC.
Goodman’s report created an extraordinary crack in the accord of silence. And, as Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stonewrites, the rage it generated may well have influenced the Obama administration’s verdict to stop work on the pipeline some days later. This was a kind of journalism that mattered.
However, on September 8, Goodman got hold of the news that Morton County, North Dakota, had given a warrant for her arrest. The charge was: riot, a crime punishable by jail time and a fine.
It should be noted that this was not the actual charge leveled against Goodman; originally, she was pegged with criminal intruding, also an offense. But in what would appear to be a obvious indication of charge-shopping, the attorney Ladd, change up the crimes she had supposedly committed just some days before she was supposed to appear in court, because, he admitted in an email to Goodman’s prosecutor, there were “officially permitted concerns with proving the observation of trespassing requirements in the diktat.”
When asked to explain the validation which warranted for arresting a working reporter, Erickson told the Grand Forks Herald that he did not carry out any arrest, in actual fact, consider Goodman a journalist. “She’s a protester, for all intents and purposes,” he said to the newspaper.
“Absolutely all she has confidently divulged on was just to explaining and justifying the protest actions.” And in The Bismarck Tribune further added, “I suppose she fabricated a piece to manipulate the world on her agenda, basically. That’s alright, but it doesn’t inoculate her from the laws of her state.”
It’s worth taking a break here for a brief moment to consider the full and chilling irrationality of this statement: in accordance to what Ladd said, a woman who emerges at a protest carrying a microphone inscribed with the name Democracy Now! And rambling with a video crew; who can be heard in the resulting video footage identifying herself to a security guard as a journalist; and who then put on air the video on the daily news TV program she has anchored for 20 years is not truly a journalist. She is not a journalist, because she holds a strong standpoint, and that standpoint clashes with his own.
By the same distorted judgment, every muckraking news collector from Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell on through I.F. Stone, and, yes, that’s today’s Matt Taibbi (whose work Erickson actually admires) was not a reporter but a protester flirting with arrest.
This perception should disturb anyone who labors in the journalism furrows, especially those who dedicate their days, and often nights to journalism, to covering stories that confront the strong and jab at the powerful. Engaging in severe journalism—journalism that incarcerates a society’s illegal, or simply concealed, stories—is hard and terrifying, and it requires gallantry, confidence, and determination. Along with an enduring faith in the defensive power of the First Amendment. When that strong faith is compromised, the likelihood of serious journalism rupture and collapses—a reason, undoubtedly the team to Protect Journalists came out vehemently on Goodman’s behalf.
“This arrest warrant is an obvious attempt to intimidate journalists from covering protests or objections of major public interest,” a senior program coordinator Carlos Lauría, for the Americas at CPJ, said in a statement. “Authorities in North Dakota should stop thwarting themselves, drop the charges leveled against Amy Goodman, and make certain that all reporters have the freedom and right to carry out their jobs un-intimidated.”
So far, the North Dakota authorities remain devoted to their own humiliation; the charges have not been dropped, which is the reason Goodman is going back to North Dakota to turn herself in—and then battle the charges.
Some few weeks ago, as I drove to and from a memorial service with Goodman (full disclosure: Goodman is a good family-friend whom I have known for a very long time and formerly worked for), I happened to overhear an admirer of hers ask what the public may possibly do to support her as she faced arrest. Goodman was fast to respond, she said keep paying real attention to the protesters in North Dakota, be compassionate and keep caring about their fight. She, however, was not the story.
Goodman was absolutely right, of course. The long effort of the Standing Rock Sioux, which is a struggle against broken accords, government-endorsed kleptomania and environmental injustice , is older than this nation and as important to its future as it certainly is to its past. But, with no one to train a camera on their protests, or hold a microphone to the protesters’ lips, the story often gets lost. We risk missing the important message, expressed by a man with a raw voice and aggrieved face, just before the end of Democracy Now’s rapidly circulating video: “this terrain and land belongs to no-one. The soil owned by the earth. We are just caretakers. Caretakers of the earth.”