It is fitting that I came across this photo linking to a Pennlive article on my Facebook feed as I was driving from Yellowstone National Park to Denver, Colorado, a ride that included beautiful scenery and a landscape that was littered with coal trains, oil derricks and fracking pads.
The photo in question is in a collage that lumps local environmentalists – most of whom I know from when I was studying environmental science or who have contributed to the Raging Chicken Press – with members of the Ku Klux Klan and conservative militia or sovereign citizen groups. The article, or slideshow, seeks insight from Pennsylvania’s Homeland Security Director Marcus Brown and quotes Brown’s concerns about sabotage to gas drilling infrastructure; not peaceful protesters. The article then included a photo of demonstrators from established environmental organizations. The photo was then removed and replaced with a drilling rig and editor’s note that read “this photo of a Marcellus shale drilling rig was added to this post replacing a photo of a mainstream environmental organization that was meeting peacefully.” However, the photo in question can still be seen when sharing the link through social media platforms.
An editor’s note or a rebuttal from the environmental community in the opinion pages is not enough.
PennLive must acknowledge their mistake and issue an apology for two reasons. First, this stock photograph should not have been published because it came from a press event that was covered by the news outlet and organized and attended by a coalition of environmental groups such as: The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Clean Water Action, PennFuture and more. These organizations and those pictured are pretty recognizable in the Capitol hallways. They are active in the Capitol throughout the year. They can usually be spotted at environmental hearings or rallies in the Capitol rotunda or outside the Rachel Carson Building.
Secondly, the damage of labeling nonviolent environmental activists – or any activist that participates in peaceful disruptive protests – as domestic terrorist threats is already done. It is something that an editor’s note after the fact cannot undo. Labeling peaceful activists as “terrorists” reinforces the frames that the media or political elites have traditionally used to suppress or delegitimize non-violent populist or environmental movements or it incites violence that has been seen at Donald Trump rallies when non-violent protesters shout disagreements at the candidate or silently holding signs that disagrees with his policy.
You can listen to Karen Feridun from Berks Gas Truth talk about the resignation of DEP Secretary John Quigley, and you can help sustain the Raging Chicken Press as Harrisburg’s only independent media outlet.