Home   Google ARCHIVE SEARCH: Date:

Journalist Wolf still in prison
as justice is miscarried again

Josh Wolf
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Richard Knee


November 21, 2006

William H. Alsup and Jeffrey Finigan are probably looking forward to sharing gourmet Thanksgiving feasts with their families.

Thanks to them and absent any miracle, freelance blogger and videojournalist Josh Wolf will spend Thanksgiving at the federal prison in Dublin.

Wolf has been in and out of the prison - mostly in - since Alsup, a U.S. district judge, sent him there Aug. 1 for refusing to let a federal grand jury have unedited, unaired footage of an anarchists' demonstration he shot in San Francisco in July 2005.

Finigan is the federal prosecutor who held sway with Alsup and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. And he was equally successful this afternoon, convincing Alsup that Wolf should not receive a Thanksgiving weekend furlough.

Wolf's attorneys still hope to persuade Alsup to view the tape to determine if it contains any information that the grand jury can use as it investigates the damaging of a San Francisco Police car during the demonstration.

I'm not optimistic. Alsup seems all to eager to avoid taking any moral responsibility in the case.

In issuing today's decision, he said it was "not entirely clear" that his court had jurisdiction over the furlough reques,t or over a release motion submitted by Wolf's attorneys. Then he went ahead and decided anyway: "The Court finds that the request for a Thanksgiving holiday from confinement is not warranted. It is so ordered."

U.S. District Judge William Alsup
Photo courtesy Ninth Circuit Blog

Moreover, during the Aug. 1 hearing, Alsup voiced reluctance to view the tape to determine relevance; that, he said, was the grand jury's function.

Wolf, who was at today's court session, dressed in federal prison beige fatigues, held his ground: By letting the grand jury have the raw footage he would be violating the time-honored principle that a reporter is not an arm of the prosecution, of the court, or of the federal grand jury. He would essentially destroy the trust gained as a journalist.

He appeared as resolute today - after having spent 90 days behind bars - as he did before he was wrongfully imprisoned.

The cases of Wolf and other journalists who face or have experienced imprisonment for upholding that principle are symptomatic of some trends that pose a grave danger to our democracy:

- With an alarmingly growing frequency, governments at all levels are taking steps to control the flow, volume and content of the information that reaches the public.

- Governments want to stifle the freedoms of speech, of the press and of peaceable mass protest.

These trends predate George W. Bush's presidency, but Bush and his cronies have done everything they can to accelerate and expand them.

And they underscore the need for a federal shield law to uphold the rights of journalists to protect sources and to keep possession of unpublished/unaired materials. California and 38 other states have enacted shield laws, and court decisions have upheld the journalists' protections in 10 other states. The lone holdout, by the way, is Wyoming - Dick Cheney's home state.

If there's any good news, it's that journalists, news outlets and journalist organizations are finally coalescing around the issue. Whether it's too late remains to be seen. But it's likely to be a long, extremely difficult fight. The way that Bush, with the help of a rubber-stamp Senate, has been able to pack the federal judiciary, the damage wrought to the Constitution will take at least a generation to repair.

There are lots of things that we average Joes and Janes can do in the meantime. We can give moral and financial support to Wolf. We can let U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales know that we're onto the Justice Department's game and we intend henceforth to fight it at every opportunity.

I'll tell you early next week how you can do those things. Right now, I'll beg your patience because it's late and tomorrow I go on the road for the holiday weekend. Good night and happy Thanksgiving.

Richard Knee is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco, and is active on First Amendment and freedom-of-information issues. E-mail him at rak0408@earthlink.net.

Richard Knee

Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.




The Hunger Site

Cooking Classes
in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires B&B

Calitri in southern Italy

L' Aquila in Abruzzo

Health Insurance Quotes


Bruce Brugmann's


Civic Center

Dan Noyes

Greg Dewar

Griper Blade


Malik Looper






MetroWize Urban Guide

Michael Moore

N Judah Chronicles


Robert Solis

SF Bay Guardian





SFWillie's Blog



Sweet Melissa