Friday, January 11, 2008

The Josh Wolf Myth

The current issue of the Bay Guardian provides a good example of how political mythology is perpetuated. In this instance, it's about Josh Wolf, who went to jail last year for refusing to give the Federal Grand Jury his videotape of a demonstration during which city cop Peter Shields had his skull fractured by Wolf's anarchist comrades.

In the Guardian, Tim Redmond (and Richard Knee, whose letter to the Guardian is below) doesn't provide any of this background. He simply assumes---correctly, no doubt---that his regular "progressive" readers will fill in the blanks based on the previous misinformation the Guardian has provided about Wolf:

We got a press release Friday from the Democratic Leadership Council, which runs the Bill Clinton wing of the party and has long supported Democrats who hew to the center-right. The DLC folks call these hawkish neocons "new Democrats." And according to their Jan. 4 statement, the "New Democrat of the Week" was...San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. 

Newsom got the award for "his continued commitment to reducing his city's carbon footprint," which is fine and lovely. But it came the same week he announced, in a very DLC style, that he was bringing Kevin Ryan, the former United States attorney, on board as the head of his criminal justice council. Ryan's a right-wing prosecutor, a George W. Bush appointee who was in charge of the witch hunt and persecution that sent videographer Josh Wolf to jail for 226 days. Why, exactly, is a guy who has no respect for the First Amendment working for the mayor of San Francisco?

Gee, why would the wicked Federal Government put poor little Josh Wolf in jail? Redmond's implied answer: because they were just on one of their political "witch hunts," which is what Republicans do---put innocent "videographers" in jail because, as we know, they don't respect the First Amendment. To hear Redmond tell it, the Feds picked Wolf off the streets of the city to "persecute" him.

The facts: Josh Wolf videotaped a demonstration by some of his anarchist friends that turned violent. They fractured the skull of a city cop and tried to burn a police car. To get evidence of who was responsible, the Federal Grand Jury ordered Wolf to turn over his tape to the US Attorney's office, which was then run by Kevin Ryan. According to Wolf and his supporters, it was an act of political repression and a violation of the First Amendment, since Wolf is a blogger. 

Wolf himself has opined that the Feds came down on him for political reasons. Redmond knows exactly how many days Wolf spent in federal prison, but he doesn't mention Peter Shields or the city police car the demonstrators tried to burn.

And Richard Knee warns us ominously that Mayor Newsom's appointment of Ryan "heralds Newsom's intent to attack the First Amendment and California's Shield Law as well." Look out, fringe-lefties, Kevin Ryan is coming to get you! Beware H. Brown, Marc Salomon, and Quintin Mecke!

A question city progressives are apparently incapable of asking: Why didn't District Attorney Kamala Harris show any interest in finding out who fractured the skull of a city cop?


The Bay Area chapter of the National Writers Union, which represents freelance writers and editors, feels strongly that in naming Kevin Ryan to head the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, Gavin Newsom has made an extremely bad choice.

It was Ryan, after all, who headed the local United States Attorney's Office when the federal government persecuted freelance blogger-videojournalist Josh Wolf for upholding the principle of an independent fourth estate.

In their book Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights (Random House, 2007), Lou Dubose and the late Molly Ivins described Ryan as "the anomaly in the Al Gonzales–Karl Rove purge of U.S. attorneys. He was the guy who earned the right to be fired long before his eight undeserving colleagues were dismissed."

The Associated Press quoted mayoral spokesman Nathan Ballard as saying that Ryan's appointment "sends a powerful message that [Newsom] is serious about tackling crime and violence in San Francisco."

Judging from all we've seen and heard, we fear the appointment heralds Newsom's intent to attack the First Amendment and California's Shield Law as well.

Richard Knee
Journalism Division Chair
National Writers Union (United Automobile Workers Local 1981, AFL-CIO),

Bay Area chapter
San Francisco

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