September 20, 2006 4:45 PM PDT

Video blogger gets two days to return to prison

DUBLIN, Calif.--Video blogger and freelance journalist Josh Wolf was on Wednesday given two more days to either turn himself back in to prison or cooperate with a federal grand jury seeking unpublished footage he shot during a protest that turned violent.

Wolf, who said he has no plans to hand over the outtakes from a 2005 San Francisco demonstration against the G8 summit, initially had until Wednesday afternoon to return to the Federal Correctional Institute here, according to an order by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revoking his bail Monday.

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Video: Hear from the first jailed blogger
Josh Wolf speaks at press conference

But at the last minute the court gave Wolf, 24, a couple of extra days. That not only allows him to deal with roommate issues, pay bills and downscale his cell phone plan, he said, it gives him time to spread his message about what he sees as an attack on a free and independent press.

No "unpaid journalist" wants to be an "unpaid investigator for law enforcement," Wolf told a pack of reporters who had come to the prison for a press conference and to see him walk through the prison doors.

On Aug. 1, Wolf became the first known blogger to be jailed on contempt charges for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury. In addition to refusing to hand over the footage (click here for video; contains profanity), he refused to testify before the grand jury, citing his right as a journalist to withhold unpublished material and protect confidential sources.

"Make no mistake that Josh is going to prison for political reasons."
--Carlos Villarreal, National Lawyers Guild

A pioneer in the growing video-blogging movement, Wolf was released on bail a month later while his appeal on the contempt charges was being considered. But a three-judge panel last week rejected the appeal and then revoked bail. Wolf could serve until the grand jury term expires, which would be in nine months, if it is not extended.

Wolf and those defending him maintain that he's being targeted because of his interest in giving a voice to those on the fringe.

"His beat is activism," said the National Lawyers Guild's Carlos Villarreal, adding that Wolf often covers leftists, anarchists and anti-War and anti-Bush activists. "Make no mistake that Josh is going to prison for political reasons."

Jose Luis Fuentes, one of Wolf's Oakland, Calif.-based attorneys, said his team plans to petition for a rehearing before the full appeals court. He disagrees with the prosecution's assertion that imprisoning Wolf is a way to coerce him to hand over the videotape, which Wolf maintains offers no incriminating evidence.

It's not coercive, "once you've made up your mind you're going to see something through all the appeals," Wolf said.

Rather, Wolf feels like his bail was revoked to silence him and as punishment, something akin to an older brother holding your arm behind your back and saying, "I'm going to break your arm if you don't do what I tell you," he said.

The prosecution, for its part, contends that it's just fulfilling an "obligation to the community to investigate and gather relevant and material evidence of serious crimes," said Luke Macaulay, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco.

"Six separate judges or panels have now ruled unequivocally that we have lawfully issued a subpoena for legitimate investigative purposes, and that the material in question should be furnished to the grand jury," he said, adding that the grand jury is entitled to all the evidence in Wolf's possession related to the demonstration.

Wolf might have been protected by California's shield law. But the case ended up in federal hands because federal prosecutors--who want to see if Wolf's footage shows a San Francisco police car being set on fire at the protest--say they have jurisdiction over the case because the car was paid for in part by federal dollars. A police officer was also injured at the protest.

Fuentes said he's hopeful the 9th Circuit will take a look at the constitutional issues at stake, particularly when it comes to grand juries and the press.

"Mr. Wolf is not above the law," he said. "But we do have a social contract, our constitution, which grants the press freedom of the press, and the government should not abridge those rights that have been in this country for over 200 years."

Macaulay points out, however, that his office "did not initiate a federal investigation in order to circumvent the California State Shield laws."

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27 comments

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Nothing to do with "freedom of the press"
This guy has evidence about a crime that was committed. He's
no journalist. He needs to turn the evidence over or go back to
jail.

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You don't know that, and neither do the feds.
QUOTE "This guy has evidence about a crime that was
committed. "

You don't know that, and neither do the feds, because neither of
you have seen the unpublished parts of the tape.

The feds are trying to find evidence. That is very different from
collecting evidence that they know exists.

He says there is no incriminating evidence on the tape. He
recorded it. He (I assume) has watched it. Have you?

If the Feds came to you and said "We're an investigating internet
crime, and we want all of your drives and disks. We know you've
been on the internet, so give us everything. Hold anything back
and you go to jail.", would you consider that to be proof that the
evidence is there?

Would you erase anything first, like those pictures you took of
your wife but don't show to anyone?

Yea, that's what I thought. Go to jail, you CRIMINAL!

Lampie
Posted by lampietheclown (73 comments )
Link Flag
Are You Serious??
You actually believe that if "authorities" come to you and demand
to see something you have that you shouyld be required to
surrender it?? Wow - we have gone farther to the right than I have
even imagined. Journalist or not - as was aptly pointed out, they
are "fishing" and have over stepped the bounds of the Constitution
to "collect evidence."
Posted by tverhaar (4 comments )
Link Flag
What if t was you?
You are in the park, you are filming your wife and children. This is the best footage you ever got of your family. Suddenly a riot breaks out and the feds approach you days later and want the tape. You know you only caught 2 minutes of the riot but hours of your family.

Do you give them the tape and never see it again? I know that isn't the same as this guy. This guy covers anti current government and protests. If he was part of the New York Times this would not be an issue. The feds have had a few dealings with the press since Bush took office. Maybe you should check the track record and legal presidence before you spout off.
Posted by Central_office_tech (49 comments )
Link Flag
bloggers aren't real journalists
just because you write stories and publish them on the web, that doesn't make you a journalist. It's a slippery slope to allow every tom, dick, and harry to claim 'freedom of the press' when they have not earned the privilege. What, the Rodney King tape shouldn't have been able to be subpoenaed if the guy taping it had claimed he was a blogger? This is just a guy with a videocamera.
Posted by casual observer (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
freedom of press is for anyone
No law, means the government does not get to decide what is or
isn't by the term "press".

The Rodney King tape I don't think was wanted to be seen by the
police.
Posted by davez2006 (17 comments )
Link Flag
Who decides?
So then who decides who is a journalist? I hope it's not you, because you don't have a clue.
Posted by Jeff Putz (302 comments )
Link Flag
so then, what is?
You make a decent argument, but not a conclusive one. If you and the government are unhappy with the current definition of "journalist" then perhaps we need an official designation. Because they could easily argue you're not a journalist unless your nationally syndicated, or working for a press source with circulation over 10 million, or whatever they want.
Cetainly a reporter for a local community newspaper would have a claim that he is a journalist even though he doesn't meet those requirements.
The current administration (of which I am mostly a supporter) has a nasty habit of redefining things on the fly to meet their current desires. This is not the way forward in an open democracy. In fact it sounds a bit too much like Russia or China for my comfort.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
Ummm, wasn't that a journalist in a hellicopter
The rodney king video... Wasn't that filmed from a chopper? Just a guy with a video cammera?
Posted by Central_office_tech (49 comments )
Link Flag
Feds usurping power
I adamantly oppose demonstrations that turn violent or destroy public or private property. This guy is getting what he deserves. What is scary is the lame reason the Feds use to get into the act--fed funds may have been used to partially pay for a police car. If federal funds partially or in whole paid for something, if it's interstate commerce, or crosses state lines, they jump in an usurp the local authorities. With this and the Bush Administration thumbing at privacy rights, the DOJ mandating diversity requirements to local governments, and the secrecy of the DHS we might as well do away with local governments. The fed bureaucrats aren't elected, don't get fired or held accountable, Congress either can't or just plain won't control them. Democracy is dead in the US.
Posted by kenny-J (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
First Waco, then Ruby Ridge ...
Now this guy.

Move along, sheep. Nothing to see here.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
I agree
The freedom of the press is to prevent the government from restricting what people say. It is not a license to selectively choose to conceal information. If a person is a witness to a crime their occupation is irrelevent. Their responsibility as a citizen and member of society to support the rule of law overrides their professional demands. Besides, journalists are supposed to be all about the truth and informing the public. Concealing information is counter to that.
Posted by baike (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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