The Way It Is

Just as there are virtually no Trump supporters who plan to watch Before the Flood and Years of Living Dangerously on the National Geographic Channel tonight, there are virtually no Republicans who support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others who object to the highly controversial Dakota Access pipeline (which Trump reportedly has financial ties to).

It’s fairly obvious who has the back of the self-described “water protectors” demonstrating against the nearly $4 billion North Dakota pipeline and who does not. In red America, Native Americans and their allies who are concerned about the severe damage the pipeline will do to their ancestral lands and their drinking water are viewed as enemies and extremists, blocking the path of energy independence.

To the extent that mainstream-media entities (with the courageous exception of Lawrence O’Donnell and Joy Reid of MSNBC) have ignored the Dakota Access controversy (tragedy might be a more appropriate word), it’s because they’re afraid of offending the sensibilities of red-staters. Covering this controversy comprehensively would be deemed a form of liberal media bias by conservatives; the broadcast and cable networks would be bombarded with complaints from disgruntled right-wingers who don’t want to see any “Indians,” “Hollywood airheads” or “radical environmentalists” on their television screens.

We are a politically polarized people, and because of that reality, concepts that would normally be seen as common sense have become part of the red vs. blue civil war. It shouldn’t be viewed as political to declare that “Water is Life,” just as it shouldn’t be viewed as political to declare that “Black Lives Matter”–but it is.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies, Native American and otherwise, who are standing up to protect their water, their land and their heritage are, in essence, anonymous heroes, their courage largely ignored by a press corps reluctant to rile the right by reporting extensively on this powerful protest. When the actress Shailene Woodley was arrested for protesting the pipeline on October 10, she stated, “I hope you’re watching, mainstream media.” She obviously meant that rhetorically; every protester knows by now that the American press really couldn’t care less.

Speaking of controversies the Fourth Estate seemingly doesn’t want to touch, how about the criminialization of journalism?

In an ominous sign for press freedom, documentary filmmaker and journalist Deia Schlosberg was arrested and charged with felonies carrying a whopping maximum sentence of up to 45 years in prison—simply for reporting on the ongoing Indigenous protests against fossil fuel infrastructure.

Schlosberg was arrested in Walhalla, North Dakota on [October 11] for filming activists shutting down a tar sands pipeline, part of a nationwide solidarity action organized on behalf of those battling the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The filmmaker was held without access to a lawyer for 48 hours, her colleague Josh Fox wrote in the Nation, and her footage was confiscated by the police.

Schlosberg was then charged [on October 14] with three felonies, the Huffington Post reported: “conspiracy to theft of property, conspiracy to theft of services and conspiracy to tampering with or damaging a public service. Together, the charges carry 45 years in maximum prison sentences.”

Deia Schlosberg will be in court on November 7 for a preliminary hearing. Considering what’s scheduled to take place the next day, something tells me that hearing won’t get a lot of coverage.

To quote the famous Andrew Hacker book, we are indeed two nations–a nation that pays attention to crises and a nation that dismisses those crises as hoaxes, a nation that cherishes journalism and a nation that imprisons journalists, a nation that values fact and a nation that values fiction. On November 8, we’ll see which nation wins this new civil war.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.