I had Jack McDonald, a lawyer for the North Dakota Newspaper Association, on my program today to talk about the treatment of journalists at the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“They’re doing the best they can,” McDonald told me of the state’s law enforcement officials, but added that he didn’t think charges should be pressed against journalists covering the #NoDAPL protests even when they’re trespassing.
“I think it was an unwise decision to go after an avowed journalist,” he said.
Charges for engaging in a riot against Democracy Now! activist Amy Goodman, who describes herself as a journalist, were tossed by a judge last month. My colleague Amy Dalrymple found “at least” seven journalists have been charged with crimes while at the protests.
The problem with this situation, I think, is the changing definition of who is and is not a journalist. While it may be easy to discern a journalist who works for a traditional media outlet and is on hand as an observer, it becomes much more difficult to see someone who is actively participating in the protests the same way.
For instance, in the Goodman case, state authorities had an affidavit from a witness who said Goodman was on private property riling up the protesters when she wasn’t filming footage. If you look at the list of journalists in Dalyrmple’s stories, some of them are working for organizations which have clearly picked a side in the protest. While having a viewpoint does not preclude you from committing acts of journalism, I think it does make it harder draw a line between protesters and those covering the protest.
Between rioters and those engaging in a riot.
McDonald recognized this difficulty. “We’re in a different era now,” he told me. “I don’t think the old standards for journalists apply,” he said, adding that he felt that I’m a journalist even though I articular a clear point of view alongside the facts I report.
Still, “they could do a better job,” McDonald said of North Dakota authorities. He said that while he can understand that journalists might get arrested in during a tumultuous protest or riot, the decision to push ahead with charges against them is a poor one.
Here’s the full audio:
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