With the republican President-elect Donald Trump and his close aids Steven Bannon and Lt. General Mike Flynn having a penchant for fake news, it will behoove all of us to be vigilant in detecting if and when this tactic is being used to influence policy decisions.
Below is a case study on how fake news was planted and disseminated to persuade the public in favor of the oil company and DAPL construction. If it were not for the groundswell of backing from grass root supporters to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux in opposition, this tactic may very well have been more effective.
On 11/28/16, Kim LaCapria of Snopes.com wrote an analysis of the widely publicized editorial, “What Those Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters Don’t Tell You,” where the writers did not provide a link to any supporting data, which is a major tip off for a “fake news” story.
“On November 6, 2016, web site InsideSources.com published an editorial (“What the Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters Aren’t Telling You”) that was picked up and run by newspapers across the United States. The piece appeared in opinion sections days before the filing of a motion by Energy Transfer Partners, and made a variety of rebuttals to what the author said were claims and demands made by Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.”
“The author of the piece, Shawn McCoy, was bylined as “publisher of InsideSources.com,” with little biographical information accompanying the widely-published op-ed. However, McCoy’s footprint in online media is rather large, both as a political operative for the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign as well as apparent author of native content for politically-aligned groups like the Taxpayers’ Protection Alliance. (funded by similar groups like Americans for job security) “
“The editorial began by suggesting that DAPL protests are celebrity-driven, populated by paid agitators, and maintaining that if the “full story” was aired that sympathy for the Native American tribes involved “would vanish:”
T”he activists tell an emotionally charged tale of greed, racism and misbehavior by corporate and government officials. But the real story of the Dakota Access Pipeline was revealed in court documents in September, and it is nothing like the activists’ tale. In fact, it is the complete opposite.”
“There were few details about celebrities or paid agitators behind the protest, no citations backing claims of violence perpetrated by the protesters, no examples of the “emotionally charged tale” being told, and no details whatsoever about the “real story” that had apparently been revealed in court documents in September 2016. Without references or concrete examples, none of the quoted material could be properly checked for accuracy.”
One specific portion of the above-quoted text attributed the term “fast tracked” to “protestors.” In a July 2016 statement, that language was used by Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe:
“The Corps puts our water and the lives and livelihoods of many in jeopardy. We have laws that require federal agencies to consider environmental risks and protection of Indian historic and sacred sites. But the Army Corps has ignored all those laws and fast-tracked this massive project just to meet the pipeline’s aggressive construction schedule.”
“According to the piece, the pipeline’s owners, Energy Transfer Partners, spent years working with community interests to construct its route. No evidence was provided of the purported 559 meetings between ETP and the community, but going by the 10 July 2014 date of early coverage in the Des Moines Register, 631 days elapsed between the initial query and 1 April 2016, when DAPL protests began. By that (admittedly loose) metric, ETP would have participated in community meetings nearly once a day, including on weekends.”
“The editorial continued on by saying that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met 389 times with leaders from 55 tribes and referenced a year and a half of “stonewalling” by tribal leaders:”
“Protesters claim that the Standing Rock Sioux pursued meetings with an unresponsive Army Corps of Engineers. Court records show that the roles in that story were in fact reversed. The corps alerted the tribe to the pipeline permit application in the fall of 2014 and repeatedly requested comments from and meetings with tribal leaders only to be rebuffed over and over. Tribal leaders ignored requests for comment and canceled meetings multiple times.”
“But an August 4, 2016 suit filed by the tribes opposing the pipeline (PDF) specifically contradicted that claim:”
“The closest to a source for the “389 meetings” claim we could locate with StandingRockFactChecker.com., a web site devoted to advocating for the construction of the pipeline. From its “About” page:”
“The Standing Rock Fact Checker is a project of the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN)– a partnership of more than 40 civic, business, labor and agricultural groups who support the economic development and energy security benefits associated with infrastructure projects in the Midwest.”
“An October 2016 post from that site reiterated many of the same core points as the editorial quoted above.”
Also according to the editorial, “the company is paying to relocate the tribe’s water intake to a new spot 70 miles from the location of the contested pipeline crossing,” implying that Energy Transfer Partners had already acceded to the desires of the protestors'”
“The pipeline route was adjusted based on concerns expressed by locals — including other tribal leaders — who met with company and Army Corps of Engineers officials. The court record reveals that the Standing Rock Sioux refused to meet with corps officials to discuss the route until after site work had begun. That work is now 77 percent completed at a cost of $3 billion.”.
“On November 22, 2016, Reuters reported on the efforts to relocate the water intake spot from its planned location.”
“Reuters addressed the funding of the new water intake point, but did not say whether ETP was responsible. After noting that the project began in 2009 (five years before DAPL), the article added that the water treatment plant had been in the works for years before that.”
“The project, which has received little attention in the months-long fight over the Dakota Access pipeline, has been a goal for the Sioux for more than a decade. It was first funded in 2009 … The Sioux received about $30 million from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to build a new water treatment plant, pump station, 5 million-gallon storage tank and several pipelines to feed fresh water to roughly 10,000 reservation residents.”.
“The op-ed continues:”
“In response to a lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock Sioux, the court documented “dozens of attempts” by the corps to consult with the tribe. It documented the legal and proper approval process the corps used to permit all of the contested construction sites the tribe claimed were improperly permitted. It even documented evidence that the corps had exceeded the minimum legal requirements during its earnest and lengthy efforts to receive the input of tribal leaders on the pipeline”.
“This appears to reference a September 9, 2016 story from the Bismark Tribune reporting that three federal agencies stepped in to halt construction just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation just after a federal court judge ruled to allow work on the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.”
“Finally, the piece claimed that DAPL protesters “may have a tight grip on media coverage of the pipeline, but they have a demonstrably loose grip on the facts.” Once again, however, no specific instances in which the tribes put out factually inaccurate information were referenced, nor was evidence provided to back the claim that the media favored the tribal narrative over any other.”
“Although the “Standing Rock” editorial purports to provide a balanced look at the ongoing dispute over DAPL, it lacks substantiation for almost all of its claims. Without specific references to the purported circumstances described, ensuring that the narrative is factually accurate remains incredibly difficult.”