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Free at Last!! -- Josh Wolf's First Public Statement
On April 3rd, Josh Wolf was released from prison. Josh became the longest incarcerated journalist in U.S. history -- for refusing to turn in his videotape to a federal grand jury. His case is Exhibit A of why we need a federal shield law -- to allow journalist to protect their sources free of harassment. The following was his public statement upon being released.
In his dissenting opinion in the case of US v.Coldwell (1972), Justice William O. Douglas wrote these prescient words which are not only significant to my case -- but also reflect the greater state of affairs in the United States today: “As the years pass, the power of government becomes more and more pervasive. It is a power to suffocate both people and causes. Those in power, whatever their politics, want only to perpetuate it. Now that the fences of the law and the tradition that protected the press are broken down, the people are the victims. The First Amendment, as I read it, was designed precisely to prevent that tragedy.”
Contrary to popular opinion, this legal entanglement which has held me in Federal Prision for the past eight months, has never been about a videotape nor is the investigation about the alleged attempted arson of a San Francisco police vehicle as the government claims. While it is true that I was held in custody for refusing to surrender the tape and that the justification for making a federal case out of this was the police car, things are not always as they appear. The reality is that this investigation is far more pervasive and perverse than a superficial examination will reveal.
When I was subpoenaed in February of last year, I was not only ordered to provide my unedited footage, but to also submit to testimony and examination before the secretive grand jury. Although I feel that my unpublished material should be shielded from government demands, it was the testimony which I found to be the more egregious assault on my right and ethics as both a journalist and a citizen.
As there was nothing of a sensitive or confidential nature on my video outtakes, I had no reason to withhold their publication once I had exhausted all my legal appeals. When that point arrived I had already spent three months behind bars. I was advised by my legal team that publishing the video would not lead to my release; instead it would indicate to the court that my imprisonment was having a coercive effect even though it was not.
This hypothesis was verified when one of my attorneys inquired whether the Assistant US Attorney would accept the footage in lieu of my testimony, he was told that the video alone would not suffice and that the US Attorney would accept nothing less than my full compliance with the demands of the subpoena. Things change.
When the judge came to realize the support for my cause was growing and that I was unlikely to waver anytime soon, he ordered both parties to meet with a magistrate judge in the hopes we could reach a solution amenable to everyone. After two rather strenuous sessions of mediation, we at last came to an agreement that not only leaves my ethics intact but actively serves the role of a free press in our so-called free socieity.
In the words of Justice Douglas, “The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring fulfillment to the public’s right to know”.