UPDATE: Hours after the Sunday political talk shows ignored the story, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they will deny the current route for the pipeline in favor of exploring alternate routes.
Sunday morning political talk shows entirely ignored the ongoing demonstration at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, continuing a troubling pattern of scant media attention being paid to the historic protests and the violent crackdown on the movement for environmental, civil, and Native peoples’ rights.
Law enforcement and private security officers armed with rubber bullets, water cannons, and dogs have clashed with peaceful protesters at the reservation in North Dakota, where Native demonstrators known as water protectors have sought to delay, and ultimately redirect or derail, construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is currently slated to run near the reservation. The pipeline, which was originally supposed to be built near Bismarck, was redirected near the reservation after residents of Bismarck raised concerns that the pipeline would contaminate their water supply. The protest has become “the longest-running protest in modern history” with “the largest, most diverse tribal action in at least a century, perhaps since Little Bighorn.”
On December 3 and 4, thousands of U.S. veterans arrived at Standing Rock to support the Native water protectors, join their cause, and “call attention to the violent treatment that law enforcement has waged on the protesters.” The Army Corps of Engineers has ordered the water protectors to vacate the site on their own reservation by December 5.
Despite the ongoing violent retaliation against the activists by law enforcement personnel, the December 4 editions of the major Sunday morning political talk shows -- including ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press -- entirely ignored the events at Standing Rock.
The Sunday political talk shows’ outrageous Standing Rock blackout is in line with how cable news has covered, or not covered, the protests. From October 26 through November 3, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC combined spent less than an hour covering the ongoing demonstration and violent law enforcement response. Fox News stood out for its minimal coverage, devoting just four and a half minutes to reporting on the events during the time frame analyzed. A review of internal Media Matters records shows that the five main Sunday shows have failed to devote time to the events at Standing Rock since at least September.
CNN’s media criticism show, Reliable Sources, discussed the media blackout on Standing Rock and provided some guidance on how cable news should cover the gathering moving forward. The show’s host, Brian Stelter, lamented that “one of the most important civil and environmental rights stories of our time” was receiving “off and on attention from the national media,” noting that too often, the story seems to completely “fall off the national news media’s radar.”
Stelter’s guest -- Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, who was charged with trespassing while reporting live on the ground -- implored “all the media” to be ”there on the ground giving voice to the voiceless” and said that “all the networks” “have a responsibility” to show images of police cracking down on protesters. Goodman also linked the media’s Standing Rock blackout to the national political media’s silence about climate change during the presidential campaign: “Not one debate moderator raised that as a question,” Goodman decried. “This is a key issue.”
Some shows on MSNBC did cover the events at Standing Rock, with Al Sharpton giving a “shoutout to the protestors” and noting that, “until recently, they weren't getting any attention from the outside world.” Joy-Ann Reid, who said that “there needs to be a lot more reporting on this,” provided exemplary coverage of the protests, inviting a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to be interviewed by MSNBC’s Cal Perry on the ground in North Dakota. Reid’s segment -- by devoting time to Standing Rock in the first place, talking with a person directly affected, and having a media presence at the site -- is a model for all news shows to follow. Reid also covered the “grossly underreported story” the week prior.
Online publications and public media have given some coverage to the actions against the pipeline amid the national news media’s virtual blackout, bringing videos and images of the clashes directly to the nation in ways TV news networks are not. And Democracy Now, which has diligently reported on the activity at Standing Rock, posted a video of private security hired by the Dakota Access Pipeline Company attacking protesters with dogs and pepper spray that has over one million views on YouTube.
NowThisNews’ Facebook page has an informational video about the protests, including images of violent attacks by law enforcement personnel on the protesters and interviews from activists, that also has over one million views.
Media have a responsibility to provide coverage of the environmental and human rights battles occurring at Standing Rock. Denying the activists due coverage allows right-wing spin to infiltrate the conversation, plays into a long-standing problem of both the lack of representation of people of color in media and a double standard in covering progressive protesters, and is a barrier to generating the public pressure necessary to induce change.