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Don't bother looking for Josh Wolf on the evening news
24 year old San Francisco independent journalist and video blogger, Josh Wolf, passes the previous U.S. record, today, for jail time by a reporter on a contempt charge, for refusing to turnover raw video he shot at a local protest against corporate globalization, in 2005. His case, along with a growing number of cases filed since Judith Miller of the N.Y. Times was sent to jail, in July 2005, are raising alarms among journalists and activists across the Nation.
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PASSES US RECORD FOR TIME BEHIND BARS BY REPORTER ON CONTEMPT CHARGE
Don't bother looking for Josh Wolf on the evening newsby Howard Vicini
San Francisco CA – 24 year old San Francisco independent journalist and video blogger, Josh Wolf, passes the previous U.S. record, today, for jail time by a reporter on a contempt charge, for refusing to turnover raw video he shot at a local protest against corporate globalization, in 2005. His case, along with a growing number of cases filed since Judith Miller of the N.Y. Times was sent to jail, in July 2005, for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating a leak naming Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent, are raising alarms among journalists and activists across the Nation.
Linda Foley, president of The Newspaper Guild/CWA, noted, "What was once a cherished constitutional mandate that journalists operate free from government interference increasingly has come under attack."
"Josh is fighting a brave battle that an increasing number of journalists in the U.S. are facing today," said Jerry Zremski, president of the National Press Club. “Chillingly, many journalists must battle to keep their reporting from becoming a tool that prosecutors can use to further their cases."
However, if you rely on the evening news on major television networks, you probably have never heard of Wolf's case, despite an outpouring of support and financial contributions to his defense fund from professional journalism organizations and a dedicated group of friends and activists working under the banner, “The Free Josh Wolf Coalition.” In spite of the seemingly-obvious matter of self-interest, only the local NBC affiliate has covered the story from the beginning.
Perhaps the tide is turning. On “This Week in Northern California ”, a weekly program produced by San Francisco PBS station KQED, host Belva Davis and San Francisco Chronicle legal writer, Bob Egelko, discussed the case in detail last weekend and ABC's Nightline is reportedly doing a story on Wolf as part of a larger report later this month.
After 168 days of incarceration for Wolf, this broadcast coverage seems too little and too late in coming.
The print media has not been as cautious investigating the case, perhaps because many of the reporters who have been jailed or are facing the prospect, in addition to Miller, are other print journalists. The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, has covered the case in several stories and published an editorial in strong support of Wolf; and, it has two reporters facing up to 18 months in prison in the Balco steroid case.
However, there is another aspect to this case that may explain some of the hesitance to raise Wolf's profile by broadcast journalists as noted in the Chronicle editorial, “ Josh Wolf is an imperfect martyr for freedom of the press. The 24-year-old freelance journalist from San Francisco makes no pretense of being fair and balanced. He is a self-proclaimed anarchist. Advocacy, not objectivity, appears to be his driving motivation.”
“But the First Amendment was not crafted just to protect the mainstream media.” Chronicle editors continue, “One of its clear aims was to allow journalists to do their jobs without government regulation or interference.”
I have never agreed with Chronicle editors, conservative by San Francisco standards, more. After all, when have you heard someone say, “Mark Shields is a liberal. He has no credibility calling himself a journalist.” Or, “Bob Novak is too far right to be a reporter.” We allow Fox News reporters to call themselves journalists, for God's sake.
But Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said the group has doubts about whether Wolf is a journalist, though they still argued in court on his behalf.
“Still,” an AP story published in Editor & Publisher Journal, noted, “the legal distinction between reporter and non-reporter has become muddled when it comes to complying with federal grand jury subpoenas. Most states have shield laws protecting reporters, but there is no federal shield law.”
And that is the crux of the case for me: To allow federal prosecutors or a judge to decide who is and who is not qualified to be called a journalist, would mark the beginning of the end for freedom of the press in America . The fact that this case is in federal court, and Wolf does not have the benefit of California 's shield law, only because the San Francisco Police Department, a Party in the case, accepted some funding from Homeland Security is the most serious abuse of power imaginable.
Certainly, it calls into question the Justice Department's respect for States' rights as it circumvents shield laws in effect in a large majority of our States. And, under these circumstances, one could easily wonder if Homeland Security funding, accepted by nearly every police department in the U.S. since 9/11, was not a deliberate trap.
"Josh should be protected by the California shield law, and this should never have become a federal case. He has neither broken the law, nor been convicted of a crime," said Sarah Olson, an independent journalist recently subpoenaed by the U.S. Army. "The Department of Justice should release Wolf from prison immediately."
According to AP story in Editor & Publisher Journal, Theodore Boutrous Jr., a First Amendment lawyer for four journalism groups who supported Wolf, said it was immaterial to the legal case whether Wolf was a reporter. “The courts and even the federal government have treated him as such - meaning a reporter's rights were at stake,” he asserted.
“Anarchy,” said Liz Wolf-Spada, Josh's mother and most ardent advocate, “is something that Josh will probably grow out of, but story-telling is in his blood.” That is part of the message that Wolf-Spada is carrying to present to lawmakers in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, and I hope she is successful in persuading members of Congress to call for an investigation by the Justice Department of the handling of Wolf's case.
Though I only knew Josh Wolf for a few months prior to his incarceration, I know him well enough to strongly agree with his mother's assessment. I believe that anyone who objectively reviews his work will come away with respect for him as a journalist, above all else. The fact that Wolf chooses to cover events often ignored by mainstream media enriches the experience of living in San Francisco , in my view, and helps all of us understand each other better.
But, in the end, I believe this case has very little to do with Josh Wolf at all. I believe it is just part of the larger picture of abuse that Americans have been suffering under for the last six years. In spite of 9/11, there is no fear great enough to make me willingly give up my civil liberties. As one of the most basic principals of democracy, freedom of the press is worth preserving at any cost, and again I thank God for patriots like Josh Wolf.
It is time now for the rest of the mainstream media to see this case for what it is: an attack on our way of life and the fundamental tenants of their careers. Josh Wolf may be an imperfect martyr for freedom of the press in the eyes of some but is it likely that any martyr would seem perfect to his contemporaries? In the end, the true worth of a martyr is determined by his belief in an ideal and the willingness to endure and on that basis I think history will judge Josh Wolf very worthy, indeed.
Let Josh know you appreciate his stand for Freedom of the Press; write to him at: