Josh Wolf redux: A once-jailed indy blogger joins a free daily with no Web site

By on

The self-described anarchist-activist seemed like an unlikely press freedom martyr. But a video blogger named Josh Wolf ended up serving more time in jail for defying a court order than any other journalist in U.S. history. Wolf, then 24, was held for 226 days at a federal penitentiary in Dublin, Calif., for refusing to testify to a grand jury or turn over unedited footage of a July 2005 protest in San Francisco.

The footage included dramatic images of anarchists vandalizing a police vehicle and attempting to set it on fire. A police officer was also injured during the melee. Wolf posted edited versions of the footage on his own Web site, and sold portions of it to a local San Francisco television station. But federal investigators demanded his testimony and raw footage to try to identify criminal suspects.

Wolf refused and spent 30 days in the Dublin federal jail before being released on bail pending the outcome of an appeal. Within weeks he lost the appeal and ended up back in the same prison, where he remained until April 2007. During his incarceration, journalists and others argued whether to consider the young videographer a journalist–and whether they should help him protect his sources and his raw material.

“If it’s any consideration, all of us think you’re a journalist,” CPJ Chairman Paul E. Steiger told Wolf by telephone on behalf of a CPJ delegation that arranged a conference call with Wolf from inside the Dublin federal jail during his incarceration. “We look at this issue from a global perspective,” later noted CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “If Wolf had been doing what he was doing in China, or Uzbekistan, or Zimbabwe instead of San Francisco there would be no question about his journalistic credentials.”

During the conference call, Wolf said that he was concerned about not only being compelled to provide the protest footage, but to also testify and identify masked protestors to the grand jury.

“They’ve stated in newspapers that they’re seeking to identify potential witnesses,” Wolf told the CPJ delegation by telephone from jail. “[That’s] akin to outing anarchists who are wearing masks, and are my contacts, which suddenly turns me into being an investigator for the federal government and no longer a journalist bringing issues to the public forefront.”

Wolf is still a journalist bringing issues to the forefront, but now for local readers of the Palo Alto Daily Post. Launched in May in the heart of Silicon Valley, the daily, which has no Web site, will be printed for free distribution. This week Wolf wrote about vandalism and broken windows for the police blotter, a lead-up story to the county fair, and a short item on a homeless woman charged with threatening a police officer, according to a story today by San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Justin Berton as posted on SFGate.com.

It was Wolf who first broke the news that he was going to the small community daily. On his own Website more than a month ago, he wrote: “If the haters who said I wasn’t a real journalist, are still lurking. I hope you don’t have too much indigestion after eating your words.”