Area journalist sets jail-time record
Blogger resists subpoena 169 days
By Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER - Oakland Tribune
Article Last Updated: 02/07/2007 08:48:46 AM PST
SAN FRANCISCO — Freelance videographer and blogger Josh Wolf became a full-fledged media martyr Tuesday, surpassing the U.S. record for most time spent in jail by a journalist who refused to comply with a subpoena.
Tuesday was the 169th day that Wolf, 24, of San Francisco spent in a federal prison cell in Dublin after refusing to give a federal grand jury footage he shot of a 2005 political protest in San Francisco's Mission District. Journalists, civil libertarians and politicians gathered on the steps of City Hall to mark the occasion.
"Josh Wolf is in jail for every one of you out there who's holding a camera ... a notepad ... a microphone," said David Greene, executive director of the Oakland-based First Amendment Project. "This is not a selfish act, he has nothing to gain personally by being in jail. ... He's fighting for the press' right to be free.
"Surely any message the government wanted to send about the importance of complying with a subpoena has been sent," Greene added. San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi decried "the thuggery of the federal government, the Bush Administration and Judge (William) Alsup" in this case, and blasted Mayor Gavin Newsom and other local politicos who've remained silent: "I'm angry as hell about this. ... There should be a serious outcry that he's been in jail this long." Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Jake McGoldrick attended, too.
San Francisco Bay Guardian publisher and editor Bruce Brugmann proclaimed Wolf "a hero" and said he's never seen anything like this in his own decades in journalism. "Where are we? Are we in Bulgaria, or Korea?"
Julian Davis of the Free Josh Wolf Coalition said the support Wolf's cause has garnered proves "this is no fringe movement." Wolf is backed by state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, who will soon introduce a resolution honoring and supporting Wolf; Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco; the Society of Professional Journalists; the American Civil Liberties
Matt Dodt, center, of San Francisco and other activists protest the incarceration of journalist Josh Wolf outside the City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007. The 24-year-old independent journalist was sent to prison after he was found in contempt of a federal grand jury on Aug. 1, 2006 for refusing to provide testimony and unpublished video footage of a 2005 political protest in San Francisco's Misision District. (Ray Chavez/The Oakland Tribune)
Union; the National Press Club; Reporters Without Borders; the National Lawyers Guild; Media Alliance; The Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America and others.
Wolf, who works full-time as outreach director for Peralta Community College District's cable television station in Oakland, attended and filmed a G-8 Summit protest July 8, 2005, in San Francisco's Mission District at which a police officer was seriously injured and someone might have tried to set a San Francisco police car afire.
Prosecutors say grand juries have broad power to probe whether a crime occurred: perhaps the attempted car arson — potentially a federal offense, they say, as San Francisco police get federal funding — or perhaps something else. There's no federal "shield law" protecting journalists from federal grand juries' demands.
Wolf and his supporters say the attempted car arson is a pretense, an end-run around California's strong shield law so the FBI can gather evidence for a San Francisco police investigation while fishing for information about protesters and chilling independent news gathering. Journalists mustn't be co-opted as a de facto arm of the law, they say.
The case also has raised questions about who is and isn't a journalist. In an age when almost anyone can write, record or film events and post it online, past delineations between professional and amateur reporters are blurred, particularly when it comes to questions of objectivity; Wolf clearly was among and supportive of the protesters on whom he reported.
Davis and coalition activist Andy Blue were in Washington last week lobbying staffers to lawmakers such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; and others to intercede on Wolf's behalf and spur passage of a federal shield law. Davis said Tuesday there's been no word yet on whether the lawmakers will act.
Carlos Villareal, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild's San Francisco chapter, berated Alsup for "a stroke of absolute arrogance" in refusing Wolf's motion for release last week without holding a hearing. Wolf's lawyers had argued he might as well go free because he'll never comply with the subpoena no matter how long he's jailed; Alsup's one-paragraph order said Wolf's lawyers' talk of a possible compromise "reveals a realistic possibility that Mr. Wolf's confinement may be having its coercive effect."
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