'Media blackout' at the Standing Rock protests

Protesters and police clashed late Sunday, Nov. 20.
Protesters and police clashed late Sunday, Nov. 20, as protesters sought to push past a bridge leading to the Dakota Access pipeline construction near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii | The Star Tribune

On the evening of Nov. 20, Standing Rock protesters in North Dakota were doused with water in below zero temperatures as they tried to push past a barricade on a state highway.

Authorities defended their decision to use the water, as well as tear gas and rubber bullets.

According to the Associated Press, Rob Keller, spokesman for the Morton County Sheriff, confirmed "that water hoses owned by the Mandan Rural Fire Department were used to put out fires set by protesters and turn back to protesters during a violent clash that was 'rapidly unfolding.'"

However, protesters say there were no fires where water was used and the force was unnecessary. Seventeen people were injured and taken to hospitals.

Journalist and Native American Mark Trahant told MPR News host Tom Weber that these discrepancies are a result of media not being in the field with the protesters.

"This is the one where the missing media is critical," said Trahant. During various campaigns of civil disobedience in history, the media has been there to observe.

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"That's not happening here, you have people quoting each side who aren't there," he said.

Jenni Monet, also a journalist and Native American, said she had to approach Morton County officials multiple times about the use of fire hoses after initial reports said they were only used to put out fires.

Monet pushed back, saying she didn't see any fires in photos posted on Facebook, "all I see are people...That's when we finally got a verbal response that the water was being used as a crowd control device."

According to Monet, local journalists are publishing what Morton County officials are saying after these incidents without question, until recently.

"It's kind of reassuring that we're starting to hear a trace of doubt from the local media," said Monet.

Monet believes media organizations, especially local and national outlets, are not on the ground in Standing Rock because of the combative 2016 election campaigns and a "perplexing" post-election news cycle. They're exhausted.

"Unfortunately, if that were not happening, Standing Rock would be the biggest story in the country. It definitely is the biggest story for the indigenous world right now," she said.

But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be present, said Trahant. "I think one of the biggest indictments of our media right now is that there are more international press in North Dakota than people from the United States media," he said.

And Monet fears that the worst will have to occur to bring the media's spotlight. She was at the camp during the police raids on Oct. 27. To hear the entire conversation with Monet and Trahant, select the audio link above.