WDAZ-TV reporter describes altercation at reservation
FORT TOTTEN, N.D. — A WDAZ-TV reporter said he was just doing his job when two people attacked him on the Spirit Lake Reservation.
He said two women, later joined by two men, attempted to destroy his camera.
Ladwig has been covering the Devils Lake area for almost two years. Tuesday was a typical day for Ladwig when he spotted a plume of smoke while covering an unrelated story on the Spirit Lake Reservation. It was a garage fire that he decided to record.
“I made a point of staying off their property. I was on the other side of the fence. I feel I was in the right there. I had a right to film what was happening,” Ladwig said.
Ladwig said he wasn’t there long before being approached by two older women.
“They didn’t say anything until they got right on me. And they started yelling obscenities at me, telling me to stop filming and get out of there.”
Ladwig said both women then grabbed the camera as Ladwig hugged it to his chest to protect it.
“I had my camera in my hands, still attached to the tripod. And one of the women had the other end of the tripod, and she wasn’t letting go. And I didn’t want to yank it away from her and harm her or the camera,” Ladwig said.
After a short struggle, Ladwig regained control of the camera, which had now been damaged.
But the confrontation wasn’t over. At that point Ladwig was told by a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer, who was on the scene prior to the incident, to destroy the footage that he had shot of the fire. Though, as a journalist, he had a right to keep the files for his story, he decided it was not worth it.
“I was afraid that if I said I couldn’t delete the footage I would be attacked again because during that time two gentlemen came up, along with the two women who originally attacked me. And they were threatening to go grab a hammer and get the tape out that way.”
Ladwig deleted the clips on one of two memory cards in the camera. He didn’t realize until getting back to Devils Lake that the other memory card contained the footage as well.
Tension over coverage
Ladwig said the media has a bad reputation on the reservation because of some of the negative things that have to be covered there.
“And that has gotten worse over the summer, because there has been a lot of controversy, there has been a shift in power on the reservation. So I think that group that was in power, that is no longer in power, partially blames the coverage so they are taking it out on me,” said Ladwig.
Ladwig said he still feels welcome by the majority of people on the Spirit Lake Reservation, and it’s likely only a small faction that doesn’t like the media. He said he hopes this one incident doesn’t affect future coverage of stories there.
“There is a phrase in journalism that you want to report the news; you don’t want to be the news. So I’m the story right now. And I don’t want to be,” Ladwig said.
This is the second time this year that a reporter has been attacked on the Spirit Lake Reservation. In June, a reporter from a Fargo TV station was involved in an altercation while shooting video.
“We take our job of bringing the news to our viewers very seriously. When that responsibility is jeopardized by an act of violence at a WDAZ reporter, it simply is not acceptable,” said WDAZ Station Manager Rob Horken on Tuesday’s incident.