Critical Thinking: How Will the Arrest of Amy Goodman Covering the Dakota Access Pipeline Affect Future Journalists From Covering Protests?

Critical Thinking January 2017

“Last September, an arrest warrant was issued for journalist Amy Goodman stemming from her coverage of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Even though the charges were eventually dropped, how will her arrest affect future journalists from covering protests?”


Lauren FoxLauren Fox, 21, senior, Emerson College (Boston, Mass.)

Fox is a journalism major. She has worked as a metro correspondent for The Boston Globe and interned at The GroundTruth Project.

In the case of Amy Goodman, freedom of the press ultimately prevailed. A North Dakota judge rejected the riot charges against her, along with the initial “frivolous” criminal trespassing charge before that, according to Goodman’s lawyer. How coincidental that the warrant for her arrest was issued two days after Goodman aired disturbing video footage taken from the frontlines of the standoff on Democracy Now! While Goodman’s reporting should certainly inspire future journalists, her arrest and others’ should unfortunately make them wary while covering protests.

About a month after Amy Goodman’s warrant was issued, documentary filmmakers Lindsey Grayzel and Deia Schlosberg were also arrested after recording pipeline protesters, except on more serious felony charges. They both faced decades in prison for documenting activists’ attempts to shut down TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline. On Nov. 7, Grayzel’s charges were dropped. However, Schlosberg still faces felony conspiracy charges, and up to 25 years, after filming an attempt to turn off pipeline safety valves in North Dakota.

Grayzel and Schlosberg were not sabotaging nor conspiring. Like Amy Goodman, they were reporting where the mainstream media was not, and giving needed perspective to an underreported movement. Yet, they were both confronted with maximum sentences comparable to the 30 years ex-NSA leaker Edward Snowden faces. And Snowden is accused of espionage.

In response to their arrests, Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of The Committee to Protect Journalists, urged authorities in North Dakota and Washington to “stop interfering with journalists doing their jobs.” They need to. These interferences pose direct threats to our democracy and insult the first amendment to the Constitution. Why would journalists galvanize to cover acts of civil disobedience if doing so puts their freedom in jeopardy?

The result of the 2016 presidential election unveiled a disconcerting (and surprising, for some) political divide in this country, igniting attitudes of distrust toward the media at large. However, we must remain united when it comes to protecting journalists’ rights. If law enforcement continues to stoop to unconstitutional extremes to stifle coverage of pipeline protests, other conflicts off the mainstream media’s radar are likely to slip through the cracks. The American public should be offended that unsubstantiated criminal charges are threatening their right to know.


Res SpearsRes Spears, 52, editor, Suffolk-News Herald (Suffolk, Va.)

Spears has served as editor of the Herald for the past eight years.

What’s more dangerous—a group of private security guards threatening protesters with dogs or a middle-aged, gray-haired woman with a camera and a microphone?

Judging from the worldwide response to her video of anti-pipeline protesters in North Dakota being attacked by guard dogs, the lady with the camera wields far more power than the security contractors.

And judging from the response of local officials, who used reporter Amy Goodman’s report about the incident for Democracy Now! to learn her identity and charge her with criminal trespass two days after it had aired, the power she wields is evidently disturbing.

Let’s be clear: Goodman was charged because her report had pulled back the veil on a situation that local, state and federal authorities—not to mention the private companies involved in building the Dakota Access Pipeline and in “defending” it from protesters—would have preferred to have remained unseen.

And Goodman was charged because she was easily identified. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people crossed a fence line that had marked the private property upon which Goodman allegedly trespassed while covering the anti-pipeline demonstrations in September. But her face was all over the report. She announced it from the Democracy Now! studio before it aired, and she had identified herself to both protesters and security contractors when she’d been reporting on the scene. She was an easy target for retribution.

Since then, her charges have been dropped, but a signal was still sent, and it’s one that should not be missed by journalists in this new era of advocacy and independence among non-mainstream newsgatherers. Tread carefully, and recognize that government and industry have always pushed back at those who would lift the corners of the rug to see what’s underneath.

After taking a hiatus from the field of journalism for several years, I was offered a job back in the industry in 2004. Having recently married, I tried to warn my wife about the life that might lie ahead for us.

Most American journalists—including me—will never have to test the courage implied in that statement. But it seems almost axiomatic to expect that those with the most to hide will fight having it exposed.

Our necessary response is simple: Be strong. Stand firm. Tell the stories.

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3 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: How Will the Arrest of Amy Goodman Covering the Dakota Access Pipeline Affect Future Journalists From Covering Protests?

  • January 13, 2017 at 7:37 am

    I continually remind myself that my work as a journalist offers me no more or fewer protections afforded any citizen. If I trespass, I am responsible for the consequences. It is up to every journalist to decide whether their work warrants breaking the law. However, it is a mistake to assume that journalists should have any immunity.

  • January 13, 2017 at 7:52 am

    These reporters were doing their job, but they took it a step further, they sensationalized the situation.
    Did they report on why authorities were forced to take these actions? No.
    Did they report on what law enforcement endured? No. They should have.
    This reporting was not fair and balanced. Instead, it instigated violence and more negativism than reporting the whole situation.

    • January 13, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      The day Amy reported there were no authorities. It was the pipeline’s temporary hired security. From out of state. The attack dogs and company were not properly certified through the state. There are laws within the state against using dogs to attack, bite laws, etc. All those laws were violated. She clearly asked the security questions. Which they refused to answer. That’s on them. Not her. She gave opportunity. Only she could be charged with is trespassing but only if the land owner pressed charges. Curious though, during a war zone conflict is the journalist required to get commentary from both sides? Or just report on the facts of the moment and interview the ones who will speak willingly? Pretty sure she did exactly as she could in the moment and reported factually as to what was seen via video documentation of the incident.


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