(Josh Wolf isÂ a freelance journalist and anarchist. HeÂ has beenÂ jailed for refusing to turn over videotapes of a protest being investigated by federal authorities. Lots has been written about his case.Â On Friday,Â December 1, 2006, I ran a reminderÂ of his incarceration. I’ll doÂ the sameÂ every FridayÂ until he is freed.Â If you are a media bloggerÂ consider doing the same.Â Josh needs toÂ know that he is not forgotten. Tom Abate, San Leandro, California;Â aka MiniMediaGuy.)
My priorÂ postsÂ prompted someÂ people toÂ
wrote writeÂ that my support is misplaced. They say Josh WolfÂ is justÂ a recalcitrant witness who has been ordered to provide evidence of a crimeÂ to a federal grand jury, has refused and been jailed in accordance with the law. This whole “jailed journalist” thing is aÂ wrong-headed notion to win sympathy.
I heard thisÂ fromÂ one journalist in a private exchange so I won’t use a name:
“Your position is that the journalist, not the government, has the right to determine whether the journalist — or even just a citizen – has material evidence of a crime, which is an utterly losing proposition. No one has the right, nor should he have the right, to unilaterally impose his judgment as to whether the government really needs his evidence.”
I thank this and the otherÂ dissenters.Â A discussion requires dissent. Otherwise it becomes preaching to the choir. DissentÂ also forces us to either sharpen our arguments or change our minds. In this case the dissenter points outÂ the best reason toÂ kick up a fuss over Josh’s incarceration: he did not witness the crime that is the basis for the grand jury investigation. The federal grand juryÂ wants to knowÂ who overturned and burned a police car. Josh Wolf says he never videotaped that act. He was elsehwhere when that crime occurred,Â videotaping other, non-violent scenes from the demonstration. SoÂ Josh videotaped the crowd. Has the crowd become the crime?
Granted we’ll have to take Josh’s word on this because no one but he and his defense teamÂ have seen all his footage. But consider this excerpt from aÂ Nov. 22 report in the San Francisco Chronicle (where IÂ work as a business repoterÂ but am not involved the Wolf caseÂ coverage):
“(Wolf’sÂ defense attorney Dan)Â SiegelÂ (U.S. District Judge William) Alsup (that)Â he has looked at the outtakes and found no conceivable evidence of criminal activity. He urged the judge to examine the video in his chambers and release Wolf if he agreed the footage was irrelevant to the grand jury’s investigation. Alsup, who had refused a similar request in September before holding Wolf in contempt, replied that he wouldn’t be able to evaluate the video as knowledgeably as a grand jury or prosecutor who knew what they were looking for.”
I see only twoÂ possibleÂ explanations for judge’sÂ refusal to screen the videotapes:
- we have a federal judge in San FranciscoÂ who wouldÂ notÂ recognize an overturned and burning police car if he saw it; seems unlikely, wouldn’t you agree?
- we have a federal judge in San Francisco who does not want to know that there is no overturned and burning police car in Josh Wolf’s video outtakes.
That sounds more plausibleÂ but more disturbing.Â Because it suggests the federal grand jury wants to knowÂ who was in the crowd that day. Even the non-violent parts of the crowd that Josh Wolf witnessed and videotaped.
Since Josh Wolf is in jail for not providing theÂ federal grand juryÂ with evidence of a crime; since he did not witness the burning of a police car,Â we are left with only one conclusion:Â the crowd has become the crime.
(I’m starting to hear from other bloggers; I should’ve compiled a list, with links, butÂ let it slip during the busy week. I’ll come back over the weekend and do that here, and in a separate post. Please think about what you can do to call attention to this case — or if you are still unconvinced that Josh Wolf is wrongly incarcerated, write to explain why. These are our free speech rights. We ought to be willing to talk about them.)
(ThanksÂ for pointers from Darlene Fichter,Â Dana Blankenhorn, comments from John Cass, andÂ e-mails andÂ other feedback from Tish Grier at Corante (past posting), Sylvia Paull, Renee Blodgett, Eric Kavanagh, Scot Hacker and Andrew Manuse. IfÂ I missed other commentators it’s from lack of experience at trackingÂ or record-keeping. Feel free to contact me at tomabate_book (at) hotmail.com with comments.)