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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