Evening News Ignores $22 Million Price Tag for Policing Pipeline Protests

Policing the unruly anti-pipeline protests in North Dakota since August came with an exorbitant price tag for North Dakota taxpayers.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department released new figures on Jan. 9, showing the state and local police response cost a whopping $22.3 million since Aug. 10. But the broadcast evening news shows paid no attention to that on Jan. 10.

The release indicated 91 in-state agencies were providing support, along with 19 states and 33 out of state agencies to the protests which resulted in 581 arrests so far. The vast majority of the people arrested were from other states.

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"We're not happy at all that the federal government is not ponying up. This should be their responsibility," North Dakota legislator Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee told the Associated Press. "But the fact of the matter is, until they pony up we have to cover those costs."

The Dakota Access Pipeline crossed state lines, putting permitting and other matters at the feet of the federal government and the federal Army Corps of Engineers. Yet, the federal government mostly refused requests for assistant policing the area near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where the scale and violence of protests escalated over time.

AP reported on Dec. 19, that the federal government rejected a request for 100 federal officers to assist law enforcement in North Dakota. A dozen North Dakotans wrote to President Barack Obama asking for personnel and financial support and expressed fears for their safety and the safety of protesters and residents.

“As Attorney General Lynch has said, the department is committed to supporting local law enforcement, defending protestors’ constitutional right to free speech and fostering thoughtful dialogue on the matter,” Justice Department spokesman Wyn Horbuckle told AP. “The safety of everyone in the area — law enforcement officers, residents and protesters alike — continues to be our foremost concern.”

That story did say 11 agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection had assisted in November and indicated the Department of Justice was considering letting the state repurpose $1 million in Justice Assistant Grant money.

National Sheriff’s Association Executive Director Jonathan F. Thompson called that offer “a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage.” At that time North Dakota had already spent $17 million in emergency spending on the protests.

The broadcast networks’ decisions to ignore new information about the cost of policing these protests fits with their previous coverage of the No Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL) protests. In November, the MRC found that from Oct. 27 through Nov. 15, ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows favorite pipeline opponents by a 7-to-1 margin. In early December, when the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not grant an easement for the pipeline the same network reports skewed 8-to-0 with many interviews of jubilant protesters and no pipeline advocates.

NBCNews.com made a surprising admission in an online report Dec. 7, about that Army Corps of Engineers decision. It turned out that the engineers recommended granting the easement, but the pipeline’s size left the decision up to a “civilian leader” — Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy. Darcy decided to call for “a more robust consideration of alternatives ...”

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.