Standing With Amy Goodman

I have to admit that until last week I had never heard of Amy Goodman. I have been following the pipeline protests at Standing Rock and had read that North Dakota State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson recently attempted to bring riot charges against Ms. Goodman for her reporting of the protests. So I googled her. I discovered that Ms. Goodman is, among other things, a broadcast journalist, syndicated columnist, author and an investigative reporter. She has hosted a daily news program called Democracy Now! since 1996, the year I was born. She has received many journalism and peace awards including The Thomas Merton Award, the Gandhi Peace Award, the Stone Lifetime Achievement Award, and The Izzy Award for special achievement in independent media. The Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication said of Goodman “She’s not an editorialist…She sticks to the facts. She provides points of view that make you think and she comes at it by saying: who are we not hearing from in the traditional media” . So initially I was confused but soon angered to read Attorney Erickson say that he did not consider Goodman to be a journalist. To justify charging Goodman with a crime for reporting about the events at Standing Rock, Erickson said “She’s a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions”. This quote demonstrates that even Erickson believes she is acting as a journalist. He just disagrees with her point of view. Even if he feels that her thoughts are biased, that is no reason to arrest her. How can he arrest her for doing her job? The shocking and unconstitutional situation is that arresting and charging a journalist who is reporting on the protest violates freedom of the press and can only be intended to have a chilling effect on others who may want to report on the actions of the state of North Dakota (government) and the private company building the pipeline.

The First Amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights states: “Congress shall make no law ….abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” which to me seems to be violated in this instance. The prosecutor at first tried to charge Amy Goodman with trespassing while she was reporting with the Democracy Now! Filming crew but he did not have evidence of trespass. Then he tried to argue that she was not a journalist and charged her with rioting. How is it possible to say an award winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience who broadcasted a video of the protests as well as a live broadcast on her show was not acting as a journalist?

Luckily, Erickson messed with the wrong journalist. Goodman responded to these accusations saying, “I came back to North Dakota to fight a trespass charge. They saw that they could never make that charge stick, so now they want to charge me with rioting. I wasn’t trespassing, I wasn’t engaging in a riot, I was doing my job as a journalist by covering a violent attack on Native American protesters.” Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone wrote that “Amy Goodman was clearly acting as a reporter at the protest. Moreover, she’s as close to the ideal of what it means to be a journalist as one can get in this business. These accusations were based off a video in which it was clear Goodman was acting as a reporter however these new charges appear to be an attempt to discourage other reporters from going to and reporting on the Standing Rock protests.” In Jason Reynold’s article, ‘Amy Goodman’s Criminal Charges and Why You Should Care’, he argues rightly that, “the charges against Amy Goodman seem to be a move by the North Dakota government to keep reporters away from the sites of the protests”, and this in no way, shape, or form is acceptable. Thankfully, the judge refused to allow the riot charge to be brought against her. This feels like a wake up call to my generation that we must protect rights we have always taken for granted. In a world where it is becoming difficult to tell which sources have credibility and which do not, it is critical that we have and respect reporters like Goodman.

What happens next is crucial and will set an example moving forward. Rather than allowing reporters to be intimidated by threats of arrest, the prosecutor should bear the consequence of his unconstitutional actions. Radley Balko claims in his Washington Post article that Erickson is unfit for office saying “If Erickson can abuse his power in this way without suffering any professional penalty, there’s no disincentive to dissuade him or some other prosecutor from doing it again”. I agree with Mr. Balko. It should be Mr. Erickson who loses his job for trying to stop Amy Goodman from doing hers.