Josh Wolf discusses release from U.S. prison
Journalist Josh Wolf. FIle photo.
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News
April 4, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Freelance journalist Josh Wolf,
freed from a federal prison after seven and one-half months in
custody for contempt of court, said in San Francisco Tuesday he
feels he emerged with his ethics intact.
Wolf, 24, of San Francisco, spent longer in prison than any other
reporter in U.S. history in a civil contempt of court case.
He was released from a federal prison in Dublin this afternoon
after reaching an agreement with prosecutors on a federal grand
jury's bid for his testimony and a videotape of a violent demonstration
in San Francisco in 2005.
Under the pact, Wolf provided a full copy of his videotape and
answered two questions, but won't have to testify before the grand
jury or reveal the identities of participants in the protest.
At a news conference on the steps of City Hall, Wolf said, "The
agreement not only leaves my ethics intact but serves the role
of a free press in our society."
He said he didn't mind publishing the full videotape because
it contained no confidential information, but said that revealing
the names of protesters would have jeopardized his credibility
as a journalist.
"It was the testimony which I found to be the more egregious
assault on my rights and ethics as a journalist," Wolf said.
He said, "I feel really good to be back here in San Francisco"
and said he plans to plunge ahead with two projects to publish
neglected news stories on the Internet and create a blog for prisoners.
Wolf said he thinks his prison time and the publicity about it
helped to focus the attention on the need for a federal shield
law for reporters.
Many states, including California, have shield laws protecting
journalists from revealing confidential sources and unpublished
material, but there is no such federal law.
Wolf said, "I lost quite a decent chunk of my time"
while in prison, but said it was worth it to protect the principle
of not testifying before the grand jury.
Wolf was found in contempt of court and jailed by U.S. District
Judge William Alsup on Aug. 1 for refusing to testify and give
up the full videotape. He was in the Dublin prison from then until
yesterday except for three weeks of release in September during
an unsuccessful appeal.
Alsup ordered his release and ended the contempt of court after
prosecutors and Wolf's attorneys filed papers announcing the agreement.
The agreement came after two days of mediation before U.S. Magistrate
Judge Joseph Spero. Alsup ordered the mediation last month.
U.S. Attorney Scott Schools issued a brief statement saying,
"Wolf complied with the grand jury subpoena by producing
the responsive materials in his possession to the government and
by answering questions."
The July 8, 2005, demonstration was a protest of an international
economic summit in Scotland. San Francisco Police Officer Peter
Shields suffered a fractured skull while he was trying to arrest
Prosecutors previously said that one reason for a federal investigation
was that a San Francisco police car that was the subject of a
possible arson attempt was paid for with federal funds.
The two questions Wolf answered were whether he saw anyone throw
anything at a police car and whether he could identify the person
Shields was trying to arrest at the time he was struck on the
He answered no to both questions, according to a court filing.
Wolf had previously sold parts of his videotapes to local television
stations and posted sections on his
He posted the entire tape on his Web site with a statement saying,
"Today, you the public have the opportunity to be the judge
and I am confident you will see, as I do, that there is nothing
of value in this unpublished footage."
Wolf's resistance to the grand jury subpoena was supported by
a number of journalist and civil rights groups, including the
Society for Professional Journalists, Reporters Without Borders,
the National Writers Union and the National Lawyers Guild.
Richard Knee, spokesman for the San Francisco Bay Area chapter
of the National Writers Union, said, "All journalists - and
indeed all Americans - owe Josh their deep gratitude to the sacrifice
he has made in fighting to uphold the time-honored principle of
an independent Fourth Estate."
Reporters Without Borders, based in France, said it "welcomes
Josh Wolf's release with great satisfaction."
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