171 days and counting
Josh Wolf, who refused to hand over footage of a protest, is the longest-incarcerated journalist in modern U.S. history.
By Adam Schreck, Times Staff Writer
February 8, 2007
WASHINGTON — Freelance videographer Josh Wolf defied a federal grand jury's order in July to hand over raw footage of anarchists clashing with police in San Francisco.
He said he was protected by the 1st Amendment. A federal judge said he was in contempt of court.
On Aug. 1, the 24-year-old blogger reported to the federal detention facility in Dublin, Calif. He has been there ever since — except for a period in September when he was freed while a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the legality of his incarceration. (The panel upheld it.) As of Tuesday, he had been incarcerated longer than any journalist in modern U.S. history.
Wolf's mother, a third-grade teacher from Wrightwood, will be on Capitol Hill today to lobby members of Congress to help free her son. Liz Wolf-Spada also plans to push for a federal shield law that would protect mainstream journalists as well as independent journalists and bloggers like her son.
"I'm asking that they treat an independent journalist the same way they treat the journalists who work for the Hearst Corp.," she said, referring to the company that owns the San Francisco Chronicle and other papers.
One police officer was injured in the anti-globalization protest that Wolf filmed in July 2005, and outgoing U.S. Atty. Kevin Ryan's office is investigating whether protesters tried to torch a police car. Prosecutors argue that because federal money helped pay for the police car, the matter should be heard in federal court. Ryan spokesman Luke Macaulay said the grand jury needed the video to "determine what, if any, crimes were committed."
In a statement posted on his blog Tuesday, Wolf — who sold some of his footage to San Francisco television stations — explained his decision not to comply with the grand jury's request.
"If the U.S. attorney can compel journalists to testify about what they've learned through their work and to force them to turn over their unpublished materials, then not only will the public be unable to trust reporters, but journalists themselves will become de facto deputies and investigators," read the message attributed to Wolf at joshwolf.net.
Supporters contend that his case is similar to that of two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who face up to 18 months in federal prison for refusing to cooperate with subpoenas to name their confidential sources for leaked grand jury testimony about steroid use in major league baseball. Last month, two congressmen called on Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales to withdraw those subpoenas.
California, like several other states, has a shield law that protects journalists employed by news organizations from having to disclose unnamed sources or produce unpublished materials. That state law does not apply to Wolf, however, because his case is being tried in federal court.
Wolf's case has won the support of several media watchdog groups that see his incarceration as an attack on press freedom.
Lucie Morillon, who heads the Washington office of the international group Reporters Without Borders, said there was debate within her organization about Wolf's status as a bona fide journalist. The group was convinced, in part, by the fact that he had sold some of the footage to mainstream news organizations, she said.
"It's very hard to describe who is and isn't a journalist nowadays," she said. "We believe in this case he behaved like a journalist, and that's why he deserves protection."
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, expressed a similar sentiment.
"He was essentially a freelancer," she said. "Oftentimes, prosecutors will go after freelancers when they would never go after full-time mainstream journalists."
Federal prosecutors in San Francisco dismiss such allegations, referring in a Jan. 29 court filing to Wolf's "imagination that he is a journalist."
Today marks Wolf's 171st day in jail. The previous record for incarceration of a journalist was held by freelance writer Vanessa Leggett, who spent 168 days in federal custody in Houston for refusing to turn over notes about a murder investigation.
Martin Garbus, Wolf's attorney, said his client was likely to remain in prison until at least July, when the grand jury's term expires.
Josh Wolf is an independent journalist and blogger who was jailed on August 1 when he refused to testify or turn over unpublished video out-takes to a federal grand jury investigating a July, 2005 anti-G8 demonstration. Josh has never been convicted of a crime. He is being held on civil contempt in an effort to coerce him to testify and turn over his unpublished work product to a federal grand jury. Josh was released on bail September 2 but was ordered to return to prison on September 22nd pending a hearing before the entire 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Movie of Josh telling his story "In Three Acts"
Interview: Josh Wolf Behind Bars again
I Think I Thought a Thought-Crime
Read his blog from prison
Free Josh Wiki
10 WAYS TO SUPPORT JOSH
There are lots of thing we can all be doing to help Josh. Here are the top 10 ways
1) SEND LETTERS and maintain correspondence with Josh while he is incarcerated. We need to let Josh know that we are thinking of him and supporting his courageous and important stand. Click here for info on how to send a letter to Josh
2) SEND A BOOK to Josh. Find Josh's book wish list and info on how to get him a book here
3) READ HIS BLOG from prison. Josh's blog is still being updated by his family and friends. Letters from Josh will be posted as they are received.
Click here for Josh's Blog
4) DONATE to Josh's support fund via Paypal
5) PLAN BENEFIT CONCERTS AND EVENTS to raise money. There have been several concerts and fundraisers thrown recently to support Josh. If you are interested in hosting a concert or other type of fundraiser please contact Josh's support team at: freejosh(at)joshwolf.net so we can assist you with publicizing your event.
6) JOIN AND PARTICIPATE in the Support Josh Wolf Email List
7) PROMOTE JOSH'S CASE. Write letters and articles of support for Josh to your local media. Blog about his case. Link to his blog and wiki.
Post "support Josh" banners on your blogs and webpages.
8) SEND LETTERS to the other inmates who are being incarcerated along with Josh at FCI Dublin. You can get their contact information at Prison and Prisoner Support
9) WRITE LETTERS TO ELECTED OFFICIALS. Josh has gotten an amazing about of support from local politicians in San Francisco. Please write letters of thanks to those who have been supporting him and letters encouraging those who haven't to consider doing so. We will be posting updates on this wiki soon on which politicians are supporting Josh and
which ones are not.
10) BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE SUPPORT TEAM. Email: freejosh(at)joshwolf.net or the Email List if you are interested in getting more involved. We still need people willing to help with tech support, organizing, fundraising, graphic design, publicity, media and legal support. Send an email to the support team indicating how you would like to help and we will plug you in!