Josh Wolf says: I’m the canary in journalism’s coal mine



(Josh Wolf is a freelance journalist and anarchist. He has been jailed for refusing to turn over videotapes of a protest being investigated by a federal grand jury. Online Journalism Review has written about his case; here is a bit more from Wikipedia; and from his own site. On Friday, December 1, 2006, I ran a reminder of his incarceration. I will write about his case every Friday until he is freed. What will you do? Tom Abate, San Leandro, California; aka MiniMediaGuy).

I have been talking about Josh Wolf for weeks. Last night I spent a little time listeing to him. I visited the blog that features his occasionally posts to from prison and read an entry from a week before Christmas. In it, he describes himself as the “canary in the coal mine” whose incarceration should “should trigger alarms to journalists far and wide.” Alas, he writes:

“the mainstream media has not exactly embraced the so-called “citizen journalist” movement with open arms; some are afraid their careers may become obsolete. It may be a result of this defensive attitude that many news outlets have turned a blind eye to my situation – after all, I’m not employed by a multinational media conglomerate, so how can I be a “real journalist”?”

Some may debate whether a freelancer and activist is a journalist. But I’m not hung up on that. As I’ve written before, Josh is being jailed on a thin pretext. And as I argued recently, what the feds have done to him they could do to anyone with a camera-phone. Josh understates the seriousness of the warning that his case should send. The government seems to think any federal prosecutor can jail any citizen to coerce them to produce audiovisual evidence on any topic under inverstigation by a grand jury.

With what oversight and restraint? What an astonishing assertion of power. Any crime on any streetcorner can become a federal offense — turn over your digital devices, now, or else.

It’s not clear what crime the “recalcitrant witness” Josh Wolf  is being jailed for not bearing witness to. After my Christmas posting his mother, Liz Wolf Spada, emailed me to say:

“Even the SFPD police report does not talk about a police car being burned and the car in question is reported as having a broken tail light. Since that information has become public knowledge, we hear less from the US Attorney about the imaginary burning of a police car, but they still haven’t come up with a valid crime they are investigating that justifies federal investigation. They want Josh to testify. This is not about the tape. You are right, the crowd is the crime.”