Josh Wolf in jail 193 days while feds chase the perp who popped a tail light on an SFPD cop car


(Freelance journalist and anarchist Josh Wolf has refused to turn over videotapes of a protest being investigated by a federal grand jury. Online Journalism Review has written about his case; you can read more in Wikipedia. In December I promised to write about his case every Friday until he is freed. Spread the word. – Tom Abate aka MiniMediaGuy).

Two weeks ago I mixed things up a bit by letting my brother, a New Jersey attorney, use this space to argue that Josh Wolf was justly jailed. Last Friday I replied to the effect that he should never have been imprisoned. 

I started thedebate by saying I wouldn’t argue that Josh deserved any special treatment as a journalist. My position is that no citizen should be imprisoned on such flimsy pretext as has he. 

But Cody Molica, a writer and legal researcher living in Santa Rosa, refused to concede the jailed journalist issue. He wrote in to say:

“So Josh Wolf is not a journalist? That’s interesting because the Society of Professional Journalists which is the longest established union of journalists in this country has awarded Wolf the Journalist of the Year Award  . . . Josh Wolf sold this video tape to three of our local television stations for $500 each, i.e. he was not just a spectator but an independent journalist. (he has been doing this for a while)”

Molica, who recently wrote a lengthy and impassioned chronology of Wolf’s case, also pointed me to a report by ABC TV  newsman Dan Noyes. That ABC news story says:

“the U.S. Attorney took (the case) to the grand jury. The justification? A federal statute against the arson or attempted arson of a vehicle from an organization that receives federal funding. . . .  But there were no flames — no remnants of a Molotov cocktail — just fireworks. Wolf’s video shows one in the street, and officers wrote in their reports that a protestor tried to shoot a bottle rocket at them. The damage report on the squad car in question — number 1139 — mentions no burn damage, only a broken tail light.”

Molica argues that federal prosecutors concocted the tail light issue to get jurisdiction and says California’s shield would have recognized Wolf as a journalist and would have prevented his tapes from being subpoened by state authorities — had they wanted them at all, which he says they did not. Molica concludes that a federal shield law is necessary and ends his blog entry with this pitch:

“What can you do to help? . . . Write a letter or email to your local representatives no matter where you are, urging them to make a federal shield law a priority in this legislative session. There are federal shield bills in both the House and Senate pending but our legislators must know that we want these issues to be taken seriously.”

I have my own thoughts on shield laws and will share them at a later date. For now just let me agree with Molica when he writes of the Wolf case:

“If you put the puzzle together it will become the most preposterous travesty of justice that you have ever seen.”