Eat The Press

Josh Wolf.jpg


Freelance journalist, videographer and blogger Josh Wolf was denied a request for a rehearing yesterday by a federal court of appeal, and refused to accept any more filings in the case. This means that Wolf, 24, could be kept in prison until the expiration of the grand jury in July. Wolf, who was jailed for refusing to turn over raw footage shot at a protest in San Francisco in July 2005 and testify about its contents, has already served 88 days in jail. Wolf was subpoenaed by federal prosecutors investigating charges of vandalism at the event.

Wolf was sentenced and imprisoned in August, was released on bail in September, and then was sent back to jail when his bail was revoked by a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court. A hearing by the full court was requested by his lawyer, which is the request denied yesterday. The motion to reinstate bail was "denied as moot." Thank goodness the courts are protecting society from this very, very dangerous 24 year old kid.

Wolf's lawyer has offered the court the full tape in exchange for release from testimony, but the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California has said no dice. And it's prison for you, Josh Wolf, until you reconsider your silly little shield law. Civil litigation attorney and former public defender Stephen Kaus has been following the case on HuffPo, and noted "[w]hatever powers the government should have in the face of a legitimate terror threat, that is not what is happening here." Kaus also notes that Wolf 's case has come before a Federal court rather than a state court, before which he would be protected by California's shield law. As we learned in the case of Judith Miller (a Josh Wolf advocate), there is no federal shield law for journalists. Kaus explains why Wolf's case is particularly outrageous:

In Wolf's case, the court required him to make the difficult showing that the investigation was undertaken in bad faith and then held that he had not done so. This is a far cry from balancing the importance of the evidence against the harm being done to the role of the press.

The fact is that the effectiveness of the press is substantially diminished if every reporter is turned into a "surveillance camera" as Wolf has claimed. Perhaps with exceptions for genuinely "terrible" situations, the press cannot function if each crime related story could turn into days of court testimony. The law in California that all involved on the government side have chosen to flout is designed to protect this press function.

The reverse onus of requiring Wolf to prove that the request for information is in bad faith is a ridiculous inversion of the requirements that by law are put in place to protect a person's liberty. This case is particularly egregious considering that investigators are looking into the vandalism of a police car that Wolf claims isn't even on the tape. In light of that fact, it seems particularly churlish for the DA's office to refuse to accept Wolf's offer of tape and no testimony, since there seems to be the possibility that a simple viewing might make the whole request moot. Either way, the fact that jailtime is being used here as a punitive tactic of coercion rather than a legitimate punishment for actual lawbreaking is atrocious, particularly in light of the court's decision to shut the door on Wolf for the rest of the grand jury term while he languishes in jail.

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