The concluding chapter of my thesis touched on the issue of people writing poverty porn articles in regards to life on Native American reservations. In addition to Diana Sawyer’s visit to Pine Ridge for “Hidden America: Children of the Plains” I mentioned the negative coverage the Wind River reservation receives from the press. Since then the New York Times has returned to Wind River and other reservations for more stories, but those stories are nothing compared to Business Insider and their shallow use of Wind River to churn up some page views through a morally, ethically, and factually questionable “article.” I refuse to link to websites like BI on this blog and risk giving them even one more page view besides my own, so you’ll need to find the link at this WyoFile article on the subject.
The first sign the slideshow is bogus is the caption for a series of pictures dealing with the Sand Creek Massacre that claim the US Army carried out the massacre.1 Anyone with an Internet connection and the ability to search Wikipedia can tell you the massacre was actually committed by Colorado militia members, not the US Army. Yet Johnson, who visited Wind River can’t get the facts straight.
Secondly, the article uses a picture from Canada to illustrate pollution on the reservation, including the caption, “This is a picture from an oil mining operation in Canada, but you get the idea.” No, no we don’t. Interestingly the article concludes with “The Wind River reservation is rough. But it’s nothing like the Alberta oil sands,” which is just a sad reminder this article is treating Wind River the same way they treat places of corporation pollution and exploitation.
Next? “Life here is heavy on tradition that fights with the present.” Because we all know Indians don’t actually live in the twentieth-first century. It’s a popular stereotype (used to explain alcoholism mostly), but who can blame the pseudo-journalist who wrote the slideshow because it seems clear he never bothered to seriously consider Native Americans outside of Hollywood movies.
“American influence may be resented, but federally-subsidized programs are close at hand.” Those damn free-loading, hypocritical Indians hate Americans but love to take our money! Also the residents are entitled because of the programs. Again nice use of stereotypes.
It’s clear Johnson didn’t bother to do much research about the reservation besides maybe a cursory glance at a Wikipedia article, and it’s not clear how many people on the reservation he actually bothered to talk to. Do read the WyoFile article linked to above because residents further undermine the slideshow and note Johnson used captions completely unrelated to the photographs, shocking I know. But who cares about presenting an accurate portrait when your main goal is to get some glossy photographs to slap into a slideshow and make some money off of. Sadly Johnson’s highly questionable slideshow has attracted over one and a half million views.
The article has subsequently been updated (it’s a start I guess). ↩