MPR Tar Sands Pipeline Story Flawed, Slanted

DAPL protest sign.

Let’s starting watching how the media covers the proposed expansion of a tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota, a project that threatens our environment and provides no significant benefit to Minnesota. Today’s example is MPR’s story: Minn. oil pipeline fight stokes threats, fears of Standing Rock.

Quick background: Enbridge Line 3 is a tar sands pipeline that runs from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, via northern Minnesota. Enbridge wants to abandon its old and deteriorating pipeline in the ground. It wants to install a new and larger pipeline, running 337 miles along a new route through northern Minnesota. It would cut through the Mississippi headwaters, threaten lakes and wild rice beds, and violate treaty rights.

The MPR story is deeply flawed.  Starting with the headline, the story raises “threats” and “fears” over the pipeline fight. So the first question to come to mind is: Who is doing the threatening and creating fear?

Here’s how the story sums it up:

Activists are pressing Minnesota officials now to deny the permit and kill the project. State officials and company executives working to head off a confrontation say they’re doing more than ever to listen to the concerns of those in the pipeline’s potential path.

That may not be enough to stop a confrontation.

Comment: In this frame, activists are “pressing” and even trying to “kill” the project. (“Kill” is a violent word.) State officials and company executives, on the other hand, are framed as peacemakers. They are “working” to head off a confrontation. They are doing “more than ever to listen” to concerns. As this frame goes,all that hard work and listening might not be enough to stop the confrontation, the threats, the fears.

You get the picture. This makes the activists seem unreasonable and the state and the company seem reasonable. The people — not the pipeline and the damage it would cause — are the threat.

That’s bunk.

MPR Story Paints Unbalanced Picture

The story compares and contrasts Enbridge Line 3 with the Dakota Access Pipeline DAPL). For instance:

Those [DAPL] protests drew international attention. Thousands of tribal and environmental activists set up protest camps that were occupied for months. Dozens were injured in clashes with police.

Comment: For starters, the phrase “dozens were injured in clashes with police” is poorly written and clouds what really happened.  It should have been written in a way that makes it clear who did the injuring, such as: “Police injured dozens of unarmed protesters during clashes over the pipeline.” Why not say it clearly?

Further, the MPR story fails to paint a complete picture about who created the “threats” and “fear” during the DAPL protests.

Screen capture of video showing the heavily militarized response to water protectors.

Recall that multiple law enforcement agencies responded with a very intimidating military presence to what was a peaceful protest. Law enforcement and/or private security used attack dogs, water canons (in freezing temperatures), mace, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades. Water protectors were held in makeshift chain link fence jails, their booking numbers written on their arms with markers. Law enforcement used sleep deprivation (loud noises, night flights) to stress the water protectors. They blocked the most direct road between the Standing Rock Reservation and Mandan/Bismarck to stress the Standing Rock community. DAPL company officials hired TigerSwan, a security firm trained in anti-terrorism techniques, against the water protectors. (That security firm never had a license to operate in North Dakota, an issue apparently swept under the rug until now.)

In a story about “threats” and “fears” about the DAPL conflict and Enbridge Line 3, the MPR story does not mention any of these violent acts. The story does mention one specific act of violence regarding Line 3:

“In February shots were fired at the front door and windows of Enbridge’s office in town [Bemidji].”

Why highlight this one specific act of violence and ignore all the others? The shooter wasn’t caught. It is not clear what if any connection the shooter had with the Line 3 protest. This anecdote paints Line 3 opponents as violent.

The story draws a direct tie between DAPL protests and what could happen in Minnesota around Line 3:

“If that [Line 3] permit is issued, you can be sure you will have Standing Rock in Minnesota. I will tell you that,” White Earth tribal member and Honor the Earth executive director Winona LaDuke said…

“We’ve been very clear with the state representatives, and the governor of Minnesota, that if they approve this line, there will be tens of thousands of people in Minnesota.”

Comment: This fits into the story’s theme that an Enbridge Line 3 protest will “stoke fears, threats of Standing Rock.” Put mathematically, the story reads Standing Rock = Enbridge Line 3 = Violence. That’s bad math.

Hundreds of people already are showing up to public hearings, like this one in Bemidji, to state their opposition to Line 3.

LaDuke is stating a reality: There are a lot of people who are willing to stand up for their values. The MPR story fails to mention that many religious communities took moral leadership and came out in support of Standing Rock. (Communities issuing statements and/or showing up to Standing Rocki included the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, The Episcopal Church, the Mennonite Central Committee and others.  See list here.)

Those religious communities would not have not have taken such an action in support of this work if the anti-DAPL camps were a violent gathering.

Here’s one example, part of the Nov. 14 statement by Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

Acknowledging the complexity of this issue and the limitations sin places on human decisions, I believe that we are called as a church to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: to stand with the Tribe as they seek justice, to encourage our congregations to pray for them and to offer material support, and to examine the racism inherent in our system that contributes to the current crisis. As promised in our resolution repudiating the doctrine of discovery, we will listen to tribal leaders and respect their wisdom.

It is my hope that those same religious communities come out in support of prayerful, non-violent protests against Line 3.

Listening Doesn’t Mean Change

Another troubling aspect of the MPR story is how much credit it gives to DAPL officials for “listening.” Here is an excerpt:

“I think what we’re doing now that’s different is just increasing the capacity in our organization to engage,” said Paul Eberth, who directs the company’s Line 3 replacement project.

The company has added people to better reach out to tribes and others. One result of that outreach, he said, was a decision to reroute the pipeline around an important wild rice lake after the White Earth Nation voiced concerns.

“We’re working hard to respect the sovereignty of the tribes and the rights that they have both on and off reservation, and make accommodations in our project to do that,” Eberth said.

The question is, will those accommodations be enough to appease opponents who say the pipeline poses too big a pollution risk to the lakes and rivers of north central Minnesota, and would add worsen the effects of climate change?

Comment: “Listening” and “engaging” can be empty words. They can mean “check the box that said ‘Talk to the Indians’ then go ahead with what you wanted to do in the first place.”

The decision to reroute the pipeline around one wild rice lake is a token accommodation at best. The line still runs by more than a dozen wild rice lakes. It runs through the Mississippi headwaters region. This does not solve the core issue in any significant way. The story asks the question: “Will those accommodations be enough to appease opponents?” implies this is a significant accommodation. It is not. And the answer is “no,” it will not appease opponents.

Let’s make it personal. Say someone took $10 million from you and you wanted it back. How would it feel if that person said. “You’re right. I am listening and want to engage with you. I agree we need to come to an accommodation. Here’s $100. Let’s call it even.” Would that be good enough?

Further, quoting Enbridge saying: “We’re working hard to respect the sovereignty of the tribes,” doesn’t make it true. Importantly, the MPR story let’s that statement pass as true instead of challenging it. The Anishinaabe have treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather along lands that will be affected by the pipeline. That’s the law of the land. If Enbridge truly respected tribal sovereignty, it would not have started the project until it had an agreement with the Anishinaabe. Why didn’t MPR push that question?

Note: Enbridge already has started construction on Line 3 in Canada. It already is presuming it will get Minnesota approval. It has no apparent intention of making significant changes to its plans.

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