An update on criticism of MPR’s coverage of Enbridge Line 3 and human trafficking risks

On June 2, I published the blog: “MPR fails to cover Line 3’s connection to human trafficking and recent trafficking stings.

The post recounted how four workers on the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline have been arrested in two separate human trafficking stings, one in February, one in late June. It went on to say that not only did MPR fail to cover the stings, but according to an MPR website search, it hadn’t written anything about the concerns and connection between Line 3 and human trafficking.

Some readers, including my friend Jami, wrote the MPR newsroom and pressed them to cover the issue. She got a response which requires a small correction to my initial story, but it doesn’t change the broader critique of MPR’s uncritical Line 3 coverage.

Here’s the text of the email Jami received from MPR.

Thank you for your interest in MPR News’ Line 3 coverage. I’m sorry you didn’t hear our coverage of the arrests. Your e-mail prompted us to go back and look deeper at MPR News’ reporting and the ways we ensure easy navigation to these stories. Our team is actively working on making our news more accessible on the website. You can listen back to the reporting on the arrests on this story page and read more about our ongoing coverage of Line 3.

Michael Olson, Deputy Managing Editor, MPR News.

First, the June 29 coverage Olson refers to was a 26-second on-air news segment in the middle of a nearly six-minute newscast. Easy to miss. It didn’t come up on an MPR website search. But to correct our previous blog, MPR did do a newscast on the arrests.

Second, MPR’s 26-second on-air coverage lacked content and context. The segment offered no Indigenous voices or perspectives on the human trafficking arrests.

The segment begins: “Enbridge Energy officials say two of its employees working on its Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota were fired after they were arrested in a sex sting.”

That’s pro-Enbridge framing. The story leads with Enbridge firing people, giving the impression the company is taking the human trafficking issue seriously. It isn’t. Firing is the minimum response. Enbridge has done little to prevent the human trafficking problem. Its Human Trafficking Prevention Plan was very weak, requiring minimal training. It required no corporate accountability or transparency around human trafficking issues.

Why not start the story like this: “As Native women have warned for years, Enbridge Line 3 has increased human trafficking in the northland. Two Line 3 workers were arrested in a human trafficking sting last week. Two other Line 3 workers were arrested in a February sting. Line 3 workers account for 30 percent of those arrested in northern Minnesota stings.”

Third, MPR posted an on-line story July 3 on the human trafficking sting, five days after the news broke and one day after Healing Minnesota Stories ran its critique.

MPR’s 14-paragraph on-line story devoted one paragraph to an Indigenous perspective, quoting Winona LaDuke saying: “As experts and Indigenous women predicted, this pipeline project has brought men into our communities who have chosen to prey on our women.”

That quote was half way down the story. Why so little attention to Indigenous voices on this issue?

Fourth, MPR’s reporting shortcomings on the human trafficking stings wouldn’t be a problem if the station had taken the issue seriously before. Olson’s response to Jami misses the larger problem: MPR doesn’t appear to have done any substantial reporting on the human trafficking issues around Line 3.

I did an on-line search of MPR’s website today using the keywords: Enbridge, Line 3, Human and Trafficking.

Screen grab of MPR website search, July 5

The search identified only four stories, and only one seems relevant.

  • The story titled “Homepage” has a faulty link.
  • The story “Ojibwe bands ask for halt on Line 3 construction” doesn’t use the term human trafficking or even refer to the issue. Not clear why this one appeared in the search.
  • The June 17, 2012 story predates the Line 3 debate. Unclear why this one appeared in the search.
  • The story on sex trafficking just posted July 3 seems to be the only relevant story.

Perhaps MPR has done more stories on human trafficking and Line 3, and the website search function has a glitch. Happy to update this blog.

[Correction Update, July 6: MPR emailed to say it hasn’t taken Enbridge sponsorship money since 2018. ] It declines to say how much money it received, lacking transparency. It poo-poos any suggestion that those donations affect news coverage.

Even if that’s the case, appearances matter. This is a bad look for MPR.

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