Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Why should we "free" Josh Wolf?

Still waiting to hear from my progressive comrades exactly why Josh Wolf's refusal to turn over possible evidence of a serious crime (see below) to the authorities is worthy of our support, a position, oddly, that is supported by the SF Chronicle. What principle is he upholding? Do journalists, mainstream or otherwise, have the right to withhold evidence of a crime? We should put this latest misguided "progressive" crusade in context: The SF Green Party's website has a piece by convicted cop-killer Abu Mumia-Jamal (click on "9/11").

The POA's Delagnes raises a good question: If the video showed evidence of police misconduct, would city progressives take a different position?
The POA Responds (Letters to the Editor, SF Chronicle, Aug. 8, 2006)

I found your Aug. 3 editorial, "Free Josh Wolf," very interesting as you downplayed the seriousness of the events that transpired on July 8, 2005.

On that night, Wolf, a self-proclaimed anarchist, videotaped a group of individuals, who "scuffled with police." The "scuffle" you referred to almost cost Officer Peter Shields his life, as he was nearly beaten to death by the "peaceful" protesters. He was hospitalized for more than a month with a fractured skull and other injuries, but hey, what the heck, it comes with the job!

I am sure that if this incident involved police misconduct, The Chronicle would be taking the opposite view that the world has the right to know, and I am sure the videotape would have found its way to the desk of every editor from here to New York.

Wolf wants the best of both worlds. He sold the video for profit, but now attempts to hide behind the "Shield Act." The Chronicle has once again shamelessly shown its bias and hypocrisy. I am sure it would have taken the same position had this been the "Rodney King" tape. I would think The Chronicle would want every crime captured on tape to be reported. Unless, of course, we want to make an exception for those who choose anarchy over order.

San Francisco
Police Officers Association

SF Chronicle Editorial
Free Josh Wolf
Thursday, August 3, 2006

JOSH WOLF is an imperfect martyr for freedom of the press. The 24-year-old freelance journalist from San Francisco makes no pretense of being fair and balanced. He is a self-proclaimed anarchist. Advocacy, not objectivity, appears to be his driving motivation. "The revolution will be televised," his Web site promises. But the First Amendment was not crafted just to protect the mainstream media. One of its clear aims was to allow journalists to do their jobs without government regulation or interference.

It's hard to think of a more basic measure of a free country than the ability of people to demonstrate against government policies---and the freedom of journalists to edit and disseminate their accounts of such events.

Wolf was recording a demonstration by a group of anarchists on July 8, 2005. The demonstration turned unruly, with some of the protesters vandalizing buildings and scuffling with police. Wolf posted some of the videos on his Web site.

Federal prosecutors are demanding that Wolf turn over the outtakes---claiming to be specifically interested in the attempted burning of a police car.

Wolf's refusal to turn over his unpublished material would seem to be covered by the state's shield law.

However, federal prosecutors are arguing that the sliding of a burning mattress under a police cruiser constitutes a federal crime because the San Francisco Police Department receives money from the U.S. government. Yes, the argument is a stretch.

But the really ominous element of the government's argument is the notion that a journalist can be compelled to turn over raw material---be it notes or video outtakes---at the government's whim. If that standard can apply to Josh Wolf, it can be used against CNN, NBC, Fox News or any independent journalist who is conducting an investigation or trying to record a chaotic event. Journalists are not agents of the government.

This case comes at a particularly precarious time for the First Amendment. The Bush administration has become increasingly aggressive about pursuing and prosecuting leaks---including The Chronicle's publication of grand jury testimony about an investigation into performance-enhancing drugs at the highest level of sports. On Tuesday, a federal court cleared the way for prosecutors to inspect the telephone records of two New York Times reporters in an effort to identify their confidential sources.

Today, Wolf sits in a federal prison cell, facing the possibility of staying there until the grand jury's term expires in July 2007.He may not have the clout or journalism credentials of some of the other government targets, but Josh Wolf is no less entitled to First Amendment protection. Each day he
remains incarcerated represents another small dent in this nation's basic freedoms.

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At 9:47 AM, Blogger Christopher King said...

It matters not the political bent of the newspaper or media source. All newspapers or media have some sort of bias, so that criticism of Mr. Wolf holds no merit.

I have been an editor and reporter at a weekly and daily before law school, and I am a legal video podcaster whom they have tried to shut down 7 times and I totally support Mr. Wolf:


As I note in the above post:

"I must be a Revolutionary because they've tried to shut me down seven (7) times!

Similarly, if Mr. Wolf is compelled to give up that video it will be the key that unlocks the door to dungeons and torture rooms chock full of government doms. They want to shut him down just as much as they want to shut me down, and that much is patently obvious.

As you can see by my comments in response to the CNET coverage, I think it is great that Mr. Wolf and I can have our moment of solidarity despite the fact that in 1988 he was in 3rd grade when I was running MS-DOS and covering dirty politicians like Ken Blackwell :)"


Here is another related post, The Revolution will be televised:


At 10:41 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You inflate Mr. Wolf's signifcance to the authorities. All they want him to do is turn over the evidence of a serious crime he has in his possession. This First Amendment absolutism is like all other absolutisms: It's bullshit. All your talk about dungeons and torture is more hyperbolic bullshit. Besides, Wolf claims to be an anarchist, which should make his bust seem inevitable according to his crackpot ideology. Of course the State is going to come after him, because he's such a great threat to the established order!

At 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from, or on top of, the various arguments re: freedom of the press, another question presents itself to me...

how do we define "journalist", especially in this age of self-authored blogs?

Does filming a family BBQ and posting pics on a blog constitute journalism?

Does an "anarchist" filming fellow "anarchists" for personal-journalistic purposes ( ie: personal gain of some sort) constitute journalism?

This question of definition is equally important as the others raised.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I don't care if Wolf is defined as a journalist or not. If he has evidence of a crime---the attempted burning of a police car and fracturing the skull of a city cop---he should turn it over. Journalists have no absolute right to withhold evidence, and Wolf is not protecting a source here, since he is the source.

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Insurgent said...

Rob, sources aside; we offered to screen the tape to Judge William Alsup in camera to prove that I did not capture the incident being investigated by the US Attorney (the alleged arson of an SFPD vehicle), and also to validate my claims that I was nowhere near the alleged assault on Officer Shields.

The judge refused stating that his role was not to be a filter for the material to be reviewed by the Grand Jury. From the beginning of the contempt preceedings I have had a signed declaration filed in front of the court stating that I did not witness or capture anyone attempting to ignite a police car.

So the question is not whether I should withhold evididence as you to described it, but instead, whether the grand jury should have omnipotent power to review anything the US Attorney deems fit to investigate.

And you always struck me as the libertarion-type Rob... I guess I was wrong.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh Wolf has no more right to his crackpot ideology, Mr. Anderson, than you do to yours.

The purpose of the First Amendment was specifically to protect "crackpot" ideologies from other "crackpot" ideologies.

The "federal" crime of pushing a burning mattress under a city police car is specious enough that it ought to be sufficient to warn you about the rights you stand to lose should the winds of fortune blow the other way.

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, of course, Wolf has an absolute right to his belief system under the First Amendment, just as I have the Constitutional right to cling to my non-ideolgical view of the world. But, whether he's a journalist or not, he doesn't have an absolute right to withold evidence of a crime. Wolf has already told us that he offered the tape to the judge to view as a compromise. So what principle is he defending here? This whole Wolfe controversy---like the Chronicle reporters and the Grand Jury lead---is elitist bullshit, fostering the delusion that somehow leftist ideologues and newspaper reporters aren't members of a larger community like the rest of us.

At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob --

You keep saying Josh is withholding "evidence of a crime." But as many have made clear, he did not capture any alleged crime on tape and was willing to show the judge said tapes as proof.

So what evidence is he withholding?

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The Federal prosecutors haven't seen the whole tape, which is what they are asking for. Why should they take Wolf's word for anything? Offering to show the judge may impress his anarchist comrades and other supporters, but it doesn't exactly meet the case, does it? I don't know a single lawyer---and, unfortunately, I know quite a few---who would allow the evidence for his case to be filtered through a judge. In short, neither we nor the government's lawyers know whether Wolf is withholding evidence, because we/they haven't seen the tape.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger SportsWiz84 said...

The police are more than capable of performing their own investigation.

If they have to rely on reporters for their investigative services, what are they good for?

Apparently, we have reached the stage where reporters are more efficient than the government.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The Grand Jury's function is to investigate and indict, which is why they want to see the tape. Reporters are citizens of the US, too, even if they are declared anarchists like Josh Wolf. Wolf gets points for not providing the authorities with evidence that could put his friends in jail---that is, for not being a snitch---but that doesn't mean he doesn't have to follow the law or take the consequences like the rest of us.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what conservatives think of the states' rights argument. California courts ruled that Wolf didn't have to turn over the tapes because he was protected by California's reporter shield law that says journalists don't have to reveal confidential sources. We can think whatever we want of that law but it was passed by the California legislature elected by California voters and its applicability to Wolf was tested and confirmed in a California court. Good or bad, California got what it asked for, which is what's supposed to happen in a democracy.

However, it turns out that this police car that burned was paid partly with federal funds, so prosecutors invoked federal jurisdiction and took Wolf to federal court, where there's no shield law. He still didn't turn over the tapes so he's locked up.

Why should the feds be able to override the will of California's voters just because some federal funds went into a police car? If they sprinkle trivial amounts of money into enough different places, can they override every state law they want? They're not even "paying the piper and calling the tune" since they got that money from California taxpayers in the first place. They are just invaders, taking Californians' money, then giving some of it back but only under the condition that California's legislature is no longer allowed to make the laws governing Californians conform to the wishes of California's electorate.

Also: the prosecutors want more than just to see the tape, they want to copy it, analyze it, retain it forever, and ID everyone on it and track everybody in a total information awareness system whether they've done anything bad or not. They're on a fishing expedition.

Wolf should be allowed to go before the grand jury with nobody else but actual jurors in the room and maybe the judge. He plays the tape on a TV while jurors watch. If they miss something they can ask him to replay parts as needed. When they say they've seen enough, he leaves with the tape. The prosecutors don't get to retain the tape or even see it, unless the jury decides that it contains actual evidence that needs to be followed up on. The judge's instructions for that decision should be they should give a presumption of privacy to people in the tape. Unless someone is seen burning a police car, or close enough to the car that they're seriously likely to have been an eyewitness, they should be left alone. Thus, the factual question of whether there's pursuable evidence on the tape is decided by a jury, which is how factual questions are supposed to be decided.


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