Substantiative coverage of Pipeline Protests missing from Mainstream Media

by | Aug 31, 2021 | Commentary

The eight-year sentencing of Jessica Reznicek, an Iowan Water Protector arrested for her part in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, has once again spotlighted the criminalization that environmental and climate activists face in the United States. Yet, as the negative ecological effects of these pipeline projects become more apparent, and the attacks on water protectors become more brutal, the mainstream media continues to treat the construction of these destructive pipelines and matters of protester criminalization as non-issues.

While the high-profile Keystone XL pipeline was shut down during President Joe Biden’s first week in office, the Biden administration continues to back several other damaging pipeline projects; according to NPR, “approvals for oil and gas drilling permits on U.S. public lands are on pace this year to reach their highest level since George W. Bush was president.”

Among the many pipeline projects continuing under the Biden administration, Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline has attracted specific contention. The oil company seeks to abandon a pre-existing pipeline and construct a new, larger system that would transport nearly 1 million gallons of tar sands oil from Canada through pristine, protected Indigenous land, into Wisconsin.

While Enbridge continues its illegal pipeline construction unhindered, the people opposing these pipelines are facing the consequences of the law. Peaceful protesters like Jessis Reznicek face felony charges, excessive police violence, and other and extreme attempts to stop the civil disobedience that is being led primarily by the country’s Indigenous peoples whose sacred lands have come under specific threat from these pipelines. Criminalization of protestors has become more fervent in recent years, with more and more states passing laws that could put peaceful protestors in prison with misdemeanor or felony charges. According to The Associated Press, more than 700 Water Protectors have been arrested since the Line 3 pipeline was approved in November 2020.

Yet, neither police brutality nor the increasingly criminalization of people’s first amendment rights has piqued the interest of the American mainstream media. A search for words or phrases like “pipeline” or “Water Protectors” will bring up virtually no recent results on NBC’s or ABC’s news websites. Following a search for these words, the only result brought up on the Fox News website is a story criminalizing protesters. A search for “Jessica Reznicek” will bring up zero results on all three sites.

On the whole, nearly no substantiative reporting is happening in regard to the crisis of the United States’ destructive oil pipelines. Jessica Reznicek’s attempts to hinder the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline were labeled as “terrorism.” Yet no similar labels have been attributed to the oil companies that are actively violating treaties with Indigenous peoples and endangering millions of people by constructing large, spill-prone pipelines through major river systems and crucial, natural sources of water.

Enbridge’s $750,000 payout to the same Minnesota law enforcement agencies that have been brutalizing protesters of the Line 3 pipeline has also managed to fly under the mainstream media’s radar. In spite of the crimes, both legal and moral, being committed by oil companies like Enbridge, the mainstream media remains silent.

On corporate media’s inability to outrightly stand with protestors in the face of blatant injustice, Janine Jackson for FAIR summarized:

“Years from now, corporate media may note that Reznicek’s imprisonment came the same week the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a new report that the planet faces climate catastrophe unless drastic efforts are made to reduce greenhouse gases. They will probably not note their own complicity in reporting on pipelines like Dakota Access as “controversial,” while silently abiding that only one side of the controversy is labeled “terrorist” and goes to prison.”

The dangers that the criminalization of peaceful protest pose to the rights of all Americans are too great to be underreported by major news networks. The mainstream media must hold these companies accountable for their actions alongside the activists and protestors putting their safety and freedom on the line to do the same.

Image via Getty Images

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