One of the largest tribal protests in modern history is being virtually ignored by Fox News, even as clashes between protesters and militarized police over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota came to a head. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox devoted less than five minutes to coverage of these events in the past week.
For months, Native demonstrators known as “water protectors” have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would transport crude oil near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation in North Dakota, potentially harming sacred grounds or endangering their water supply. In recent weeks, the ongoing water protection actions have expanded to include larger groups of allies, in what activists say is now “the largest, most diverse tribal action in at least a century, perhaps since Little Bighorn.” Local police forces have reportedly used rubber bullets, mace, and other violent means, as well as mass arrests in an attempt to control the ongoing protests. Prominent progressive online publications have been covering the actions against the pipeline for months, and major print outlets have begun writing editorials about the pipeline. The protests even spawned a viral Facebook post, delivering news about the clashes between peaceful demonstrators and local authorities to wider audiences. Cable news coverage this week has not been as comprehensive, with Fox News, in particular, merely mentioning the events during headline readings.
Media Matters analyzed coverage for the last week -- from October 26 through November 3 -- on the cable news networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and found that all three networks together spent less than an hour covering the ongoing protests and police response. Fox News stood out for its lack of coverage, devoting just four and a half minutes to reporting on the events.
CNN’s coverage over the same period amounted to 18 minutes and 45 seconds, while MSNBC led the charge with just over 30 minutes of coverage. Both CNN and MSNBC featured multiple updates from reporters on the ground at Standing Rock (Sara Sidner at CNN and Miguel Almaguer at MSNBC), and panel discussions about the ongoing protection actions and the response from local authorities.
MSNBC’s October 27 edition of The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell provided exemplary coverage of the issue, with a panel discussion that included the leader of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Dave Archambault II, and delved into the nuances of the the pipeline debate.
Meanwhile, Fox’s scant coverage of the issue was in line with the network’s tendency to overlook or demonize protesters of color while elevating white armed protesters as “patriotic.” In a one-and-a-half-minute segment -- its longest segment on the matter this week -- during the October 28 edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox characterized the protest movement writ large as violent, calling the stand-off “a mess” and saying “there is no evidence” that the pipeline construction will pollute the Sioux tribe’s water. The segment featured a brief interview clip with just one person at Standing Rock -- a local sheriff:
Media have a responsibility to provide coverage of the environmental and human rights battles of our time because coverage can pressure politicians to speak out. Protests against police brutality in Ferguson, MO, and Baltimore, MD, for example, were widely covered by media -- and the coverage, though often frustrating and problematic, helped start a debate that has now set needed reforms in motion.
Media Matters searched CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC transcripts using the SnapStream video archive from October 26 at 6:00 a.m. through November 3, 2016 at 12:00 p.m. for any mention of the term “Dakota” within 20 seconds of the terms “access” or “pipeline.” We excluded teasers for upcoming segments and duplicate segments that were re-aired.