blogger jailed by feds

Blogging All the Way to Jail

Josh Wolf is the first blogger to be targeted by federal authorities
for not cooperating with a grand jury. Are the courts trying to send a
message to new media?


[lbo-talk] blogger jailed by feds

Wed Aug 9 15:47:27 PDT 2006

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Blogging All the Way to Jail

Josh Wolf is the first blogger to be targeted by federal authorities
for not cooperating with a grand jury. Are the courts trying to send a
message to new media?


Before there was YouTube's crush of do-it-yourself video online, Josh
Wolf was busy taking media into his own hands. As one of the
Internet's earliest videobloggers, Wolf thrust himself onto the front
lines of citizen journalism, uploading his politically spiked,
home-grown content onto While bypassing old media
gatekeepers — like editors and programming schedules — Wolf, 24,
gained unprecedented access to the Web's global stage, but he also
fast won notoriety for his attempts to democratize the media. Last
year, Wolf earned the wrath of Al Gore's youth cable channel, Current
TV, when he criticized the new station's hiring practices along with
its video submission policies on his blog. In protest, he started the
Rise Up! Network, a non-profit alternative media site, where anyone
can feature his or her own video work and retain exclusive rights.

Now the videoblogger is enmeshed in a new digital media controversy.
On Tuesday, Wolf was thrown into federal prison for refusing to
testify before a U.S. grand jury and for failing to hand over
unpublished video footage he shot during a raucous clash on the
streets between San Francisco police officers and anti-G8 protesters
last year. Wolf posted some of the video on his blog, and some clips
were aired on TV newscasts that later paid Wolf for the footage. But
the feds are demanding to see everything that wasn't made public. They
allege that the unused portion of Wolf's video may show the patrol car
being set afire — part of a federal crime, the government asserts.
Wolf denies there is an attempted arson on his videotape. The feds say
they have jurisdiction over the case because the police car is partly
U.S. government property since the S.F.P.D. receives federal
anti-terrorism money.

"Not only does this logic seem silly," Wolf told TIME in June after
receiving his final subpoena, "but if unchallenged it will have a
deleterious effect on the state protections afforded to many
journalists, both independent and those that are part of the
established media." Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court
rejected Wolf's arguments, and declared him in contempt of court. So
he is now being held in a detention center in Dublin, Calif., where he
could remain until next July when the grand jury expires, or earlier
if his attorneys can convince the court his custody becomes punitive
because he won't turn over the court-ordered materials. Wolf maintains
that as a freelance videographer and blogger, he is an independent
journalist protected under the state's generous shield law, which
protects journalists' confidential, unpublished material obtained
while reporting. He adamantly resists what he sees as the government's
attempt to force him to identify various activists captured in his
tapes. "It goes against every moral fiber in my body to sit back and
out people for their political beliefs," he said, adding that if this
interpretation stands, it could "kill politically contentious
journalism in America."

This could also be a landmark case, since Wolf is the first blogger to
be targeted by federal authorities for refusing to cooperate with a
grand jury. "The courts have sent a clear message to journalists,
bloggers, vloggers, and all citizens that the U.S. government will and
can with the help of the federal courts make every person in the U.S.
an investigative arm of the government," according to Jose Luis
Fuentes, Wolf's attorney. When asked if do-it-yourself media creators
should be afforded the same legal protections that conventional
journalists have, Fuentes replied, "All newsgatherers are
theoretically protected by the federal and state First Amendment. In
the context of free speech and newsgathering, all journalists are
working for a democratic society whose very existence depends upon the
free flow of information without government intrusion. Any attempt to
draw a distinction is divisive."



Colin Brace

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