At Mean Read, we serve as volunteer ombudsman for the state’s media outlets. When they fuck up, we take note. The worst journalistic offense of the past year involved the unfounded rumor of “paid protesters” fighting the Dakota Access pipeline. Rather than checking on it, several outlets let the rumor run rampant, and even helped it grow. Here are some of the Fourth Estate’s failures in 2016.
“Wily as Wasps” by Roxane Salonen
She has a religion column in the Fargo Forum, but Roxane Salonen reserves some of the nastier stuff for her blog. In one piece titled “Wily as Wasps,” which she recently deleted after posting it this summer, she referred to the volunteer escorts at North Dakota’s only abortion clinic as “wily wasps.” The escorts help people safely enter the clinic, which is frequently targeted by anti-abortion protesters such as Salonen. She wrote: “If they were being honest with their clients, they wouldn’t feel the need to, like wily wasps, congregate so thick when the women enter the sidewalk, purposefully using their bodies as a shield, that we prayer advocates can’t share our words of life and hope with the women.” Salonen even suggested that the escorts are there for the “fresh donuts.” After we drew attention to it, Salonen removed the original piece and explained that she wrote it “at the end of a very tense day.” In a newspaper column after Election Day, she called Donald Trump’s victory a “great day for women.”
Everything by Rob Port
Conservative blogger Rob Port was recently hired by the state’s largest media group, Forum Communications, but that didn’t stop him from writing the anti-fact pieces he’s known for. The only difference is now his blog spurts appear in major newspapers. In one article, he compared “past injustices” against Native Americans to the “modern injustice” of blocking the construction of an oil pipeline. In another, he argued that the GOP dominates North Dakota politics because its candidates are grittier and more calloused — people such as Gov. Doug Burgum, a millionaire software developer, and Sen. John Hoeven, a banker. But worse than Port’s disregard for reality is his writing inability. He used the word “troglodyte” three times in two months, far above the legal limit. He also thinks the word “dick” is a euphemism.
“#NoDAPL Protesters Getting Paid – Is This Proof?” by Chris Berg
Chris Berg, seen here caught in the act of lurking, is an anchor at KVLY-TV in Fargo. In November, he discovered an ad on Craiglist.com. The ad claimed to offer cash to people who would “shut down” the West Acres Mall as a protest against Dakota Access pipeline. The ad was anonymous, so anyone could have written it, including Berg himself. Yet he treated it as fact. “The protesters want you to believe this is an organic movement, and for many of them it may be what is in their hearts, and unfortunately paying protesters takes away and diminishes and discredits the people that are sincerely standing with Standing Rock,” Berg wrote. On Friday, Oct. 18, at 4 p.m. — the date and time of the alleged ‘paid protest’ — nothing fucking happened.
“Actress arrest should signal end of DAPL protests,” by Dustin Monke
While he was still editor of the Dickinson Press newspaper, Monke wrote a column ordering protesters against the Dakota Access pipeline to “go home.” Not very objective for a newspaper editor! In the same piece, he ranted against actress Shailene Woodley, calling her a “spoiled brat” and accusing her of the crime of growing “up in the Los Angeles suburbs.” “She may ‘stand with Standing Rock’ but she sure doesn’t understand the law,” he wrote. A few weeks after this column, Monke left journalism for a PR position with the state, a job he was already doing at the Press.
“How secure is the northern border?” by Bradford Arick
If you’re watching TV and feeling terrified, you might be watching a news report by Bradford Arick. In 2016, KVLY’s chief exaggeration correspondent warned you against the danger of refugees (tuberculosis) and falling soccer goals (could crush your child like a watermelon.) What threat does that leave? Canada. On Election Day Eve, Arick presented a report on the “dangerous people and deadly drugs” flowing across “the unwalled northern border.” The story tried to answer the question nobody asked: “What’s stopping terrorists from walking into the US just a few hours from Fargo?” Build that wall!
A timeline of Gov. Doug Burgum’s love life, by the Fargo Forum
“Thank you, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple,” by the Grand Forks Herald
The Grand Forks Herald’s glowing sendoff to Jack Dalrymple focuses on one of his major accomplishments as governor: graduating from Yale. “Dalrymple brought a number of useful traits into the governor’s office. For one thing, he’s book smart. He’s a Yale grad, after all. For another and more important thing, he’s people smart. So, while Dalrymple may be a Yale grad, we’d be very surprised to learn that he brought up that subject even once in his long North Dakota career.” Sure — can we get to anything he actually did? The editorial credits Dalrymple for “North Dakota’s prosperity and comity today.” Was the writer just dumb, or unaware that the state faces deep budget cuts and intense divisions over the Dakota Access pipeline?
State’s top political reporter covers Burgum, then gets hired by him
Doug Burgum’s successful campaign for governor was covered primarily by Forum News Service’s Mike Nowatzki, the state’s premier political reporter. Six days after the election, Nowatzki announced that he’d be working for Burgum as his “communications director,” calling the politician “a visionary.” There’s nothing wrong with journalists moving on to different careers. But going to work for a politician a few days after months of reporting on his campaign? That stinks.
Fargo Forum opinion page publishes a hoax about Hillary Clinton
A hoax that Hillary Clinton won only 57 counties on Election Day, circulating on bullshit “news” sites like freedomdaily.com, was disproven earlier this month by the Associated Press. Yet it was published in the Fargo Forum opinion section last week. One Forum reader wrote in response: “It would be nice to see The Forum reporting on real, factual news, instead of perpetrating the lies spread by so many fake news sites in this era. Please do your part to stop this machine.” Hear, hear!