Josh Wolf, the blogger who has spent some six months in prison for refusing to hand over a video he took of a violent July 8, 2005, protest in the Mission District of San Francisco to a federal grand jury, is not a journalist.
He is a blogger with an agenda and a camera, who sold a "selected portion" of the video of the demonstration, which left a San Francisco police officer with a fractured skull, to KRON-TV. The day after the melee, Wolf called himself on his videoblog an "artist, an activist, an anarchist and an archivist." He does not work for a news organization. He does not answer to editors who fact-check. I do not understand why newspapers -- including The San Francisco Chronicle -- refer to him as the "longest-imprisoned journalist" in America.
San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno, who has spoken at Wolf fundraisers, told me, "I think he, and those who are doing similar kind of work, is in the process of redefining what a journalist is relative to 21st century technology." In this brave new world, no definition is sacred any more. But a camera and a Website do not a journalist make, any more than shooting a criminal makes a vigilante a cop.
Wolf likes to put himself in the company of real journalists, such as The Chronicle's Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, who risked going to jail in order to protect their confidential source in the BALCO story. But unlike Fainaru-Wada and Williams, Wolf had no confidential source agreement. He was filming public protests -- those protesters had no expectation of privacy.
Because he can't hide behind a confidential source agreement, Wolf has had to get creative. So, in a friend-of-the-court brief, the ACLU warned that if Wolf is viewed by anarchists and antiwar groups "as cooperating with the government, he will no longer be able to perform his vital role of covering these groups."
Wolf's actions, however, make a mockery of the ACLU argument. Wolf offered to show the outtakes of his video to a federal judge, just to prove that the video does not depict the police attacks in question. The judge refused.
I do not support the feds' action of putting Wolf in prison for some six months while they seem to be fishing for evidence. As Leno noted, "I think it's important for people to realize that this man has been held in federal prison, he has never been charged with a crime and never been convicted of a crime, and they are treating him like a very dangerous criminal."
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