once the man in the street
I was wrong, or at least not updated. Josh Wolf is still in prison, and were it not for the remarkable fact that today he becomes the longest-incarcerated journalist in modern American history we might not know it. I certainly didn't until today, when I learned in the morning paper that Wolf had been sent back by a judge three weeks after being freed on bail briefly last September. And there he remains.
Sent back to prison for what? Wolf's refusal to hand over his news tapes is simply a heroic defense of our right to the enjoyment of a free press and the absolute necessity of a free press for a free society; interestingly, most of the press hasn't been telling the story, and we should be asking why.
The story is a little complex, but a grand jury to which Wolf was summoned to provide evidence related to a July, 2005, San Francisco anti-war and anti-globalization protest rally which had turned chaotic demanded that the blogger journalist turn over certain video tapes he had made of the demonstrators that day. Wolf refused to do so. The court has declined to accept Wolf's several offers to show to the Judge and to the US Attorney video the footage which the grand jury had asked for, ostensibly to shed light on the matter of a police car allegedly set on fire (the damage was later determined to be limited to a broken taillight) and an incident during the same protest which involved serious injury to a policeman. Neither Wolf nor his camera were witness to either event, and the San Francisco district attorney has dismissed the lone remaining criminal case involving the protest.
It's clear that what the federal prosecutors actually want is Wolf's help in identifying demonstrators who are not in fact accused of criminal acts*, a serious enough assault on what we used to think of [or not think about at all] as rights protected by the Constitution, but Washington's real assignment is surely to use someone they thought of as a little guy associated with an unpopular movement as the means to extend the dark umbrella of the so-called Patriot Act and to establish a major legal precedent for the elimination of the individual states' protections for freedom of the press.
Writing in Bay Area Indymedia Howard Vicini explains how the states' rights issue plays out here:
Wolf claimed exemption from their subpoena under a CA shield law which was designed to protect journalists, their sources, and raw materials, such as interview transcripts and unedited audio or video tape, Sixteen other States and the District of Columbia also afford journalists protections under similar laws.
But, in the upside-down world ruled by George W. Bush since 9/11, where State's rights and legal precedent have given way to extraordinary power-grabs by the federal executive branch in the name of Homeland Security, the simple fact that the SFPD accepted some funding from the Department of Homeland Security gave the government the right to move the case from State to Federal Court where federal protections afforded journalists were already diminished under the Patriot Act and Executive Orders issued by the President
[from the January 23 press release of the Free Josh Support Group]
Wolf has repeatedly stated and signed a declaration under oath that there is nothing in his footage, which relates to the police investigation. Attorneys for Wolf have offered to show the footage to the Judge and to the US Attorney in order to prove that there is nothing on the tapes which relates to the investigation. Both offers have been refused, raising concerns that the Government is seeking to have the journalist testify (as was specified in the original subpoena).
[uncredited image of April 30, 2004, SF antiwar demonstration from basetree]