New Year’s resolution: help to free Josh Wolf


(Josh Wolf is a freelance journalist and anarchist. He has been jailed since September 22, 2006, for refusing to turn over videotapes of a protest being investigated by a federal grand jury. Lots has been written about his case. On Friday, December 1, 2006, I ran a reminder of his incarceration. I’ll do the same every Friday until he is freed. What can you do to let Josh know that he is not forgotten? Tom Abate, San Leandro, California; aka MiniMediaGuy).

I drove out to the federal prison in Dublin, California, on the day the feds were supposed to put Josh Wolf back into jail. I happened to be off work, painting the garage, and was looking for an excuse to knock off early. My wife came along. We took our three-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. (He’s homeschooled so we logged it as a civics lesson.) Our plan was to wave and cheer because we think this young man is standing up for the First Amendment.

As it turned out, however, Josh was taken back into custody in San Francisco, so we drove the 20 miles home trying to amuse the baby by singing the Name Game song: “Josh, Josh, bo-bosh, banana-fanna fo-fosh . . .”

But I did get a look at the federal prison where Wolf is incarcerated. It’s a two-story structure ringed by a chain-link fence topped with concertina wire, set in a prairie far from the suburban sprawl. It’s a cold and lonely place where Wolf may wonder whether 15 minutes of fame is worth an indefinite prison term. I don’t have much energy today to pour into this effort to honor Josh’s stand. I fall into a funk around this time of year, and maybe so do you. But whoever Josh Wolf is — and I’ve neither met nor communicated with him — he has my thanks and perhaps yours as well.

Let me add two notes for future reference.

In early September,when Wolf was temporarily released after spending his first month in jail, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that:

“Wolf is the first California journalist to be jailed for withholding information since 2000. According to records kept by the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press, his prison stay is the longest in the state since reporter William Farr was jailed for 46 days in 1972 for refusing to disclose sources of a story he wrote for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner during the Charles Manson murder trial.”

Given that Wolf was reincarcerated later in September (after an appeal was rejected) it looks like he now holds the California state record for being jailed as a journalist — if he is a journalist as opposed to a citizen activist. Pending the outcome of the is-he-or-isn’t-he debate, Wolf appears to be on track to take the U.S. record in the jailed journalist category. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says that distinction currently belongs to:

“Freelance writer and book author Vanessa Leggett (who) was released from federal custody in Houston on Jan. 4, (2002) after serving 168 days in jail for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury and turn over her research materials. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals sitting in Houston (5th Cir.) upheld the July 20 contempt order on August 17, finding journalists do not have a right to refuse to testify before a grand jury.”

I will try to find out whether Wolf’s two separate incarcerations count as one for record-keeping purposes. Silly as that may sound, breaking a record is what people in the news business call a “peg.” That is, a reason to write a story about something that is continuing — i.e., dude still sits in jail — as opposed to something that is “news” — as in, dude donned prison orange today.

(Speaking of the news-biz, I am a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, which I cited above; but as a business reporter I am unconnected with coverage.)