Captured in the campaign to destroy the press.
A political prisoner accused of no crime,
Another casualty in a civil war for civil liberties.
“The free press can not be an extension of the judicial system,” said Josh Wolf from prison Tuesday as he earned the dubious distinction of serving the longest sentence ever served by a journalist in the USA for contempt of court for protecting his sources. The issue allegedly revolves around a piece of foam bedding that was lit under a police car at an anarchist demonstration in 2005. The foam did not burn, but the federal government took over the case, it claims, because the car in question was partially paid for by federal funds.
“Free press in a democracy can not be an extention of the judicial system,” said Wolf in a statement read today at a protest and press conference at the steps of the San Francisco Capitol building. “This case is not about a videotape, it is about eroding the rights of journalists ... in what has become nothing more than an anarchist witch hunt. The media is under attack....without a free press, we cannot [as a society] be free.”
Today is Wolf’s 169th day of incarceration. Media activists and professional journalists, including representatives from Reporters Without Borders, the Media Alliance, Society of Professional Journalists, and the SF Bay Guardian came out to support Wolf, whom the court, as well as many mainstream and left wing media outlets alike have been distancing themselves from, calling him a “blogger” rather than a journalist. Wolf did sell his stories, but insists that his rights as a journalist stem from his commitment to reporting the truth, not his ability to claim to be a media professional.
“The federeral government is not content to let the Shield Laws stand,” said Michael Cabanatuuan from the Northern California Media Workers Guild. “They are not content to let the 1st amendment stand.
“As friends and colleauges, we all need to step forward to support Josh Wolf,” Said Kevin Epps, who in 2002 made waves with his film “Strait Outta Hunters Point.” “This is important for people who believe in free speech.” Epps produced a video about Wolf’s incarceration and struggle to maintian his right to free speech in the face of judicial coercion.
“I look forward to coming home to San Francisco,” says Wolf, “when the government comes to its senses and realize that I can not, will not be coerced.”
I never thought this would happen. I grew up being taught that the United States was the greatest country on earth. That dissent was not only permitted but encouraged, and that we had a free press that was not encumbered by government interference. This is so longer the case. One night I went to sleep in a free America, but I woke up in a police state. It’s hard to say when this transformation transpired; many would contend that it began shortly after September 11th, some would argue that it wasn’t until lies led us into the War in Iraq, and still others would say we started down this road soon after the American Revolution. I’m not sure who is right, but I do know that the process of waking up to this grim reality has been a painful one.
Many have asked me why I’ve chosen to sacrifice my personal freedom, and there are a multitude of reasons why I have taken the stance that I have. Most pressing is the fact that a free press in a democracy cannot act as an extension of the justice department. This can be summed up nicely with the words of Amy Goodman who recently stated “we’re supposed to be the fourth estate not for the State.”
If the U.S. Attorney can compel journalists to testify about what they’ve learned through their work and to force then to turn over their unpublished materials then not only will the public be unable to trust reporters but journalists themselves will become defacto deputies and investigators–a role few of us want and one I have refused to accept. This is not a new construct, it is one that dates back to the founding of our country and is one that is guaranteed under the First Amendment of our Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson once stated, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter,” And with these words I must wonder exactly how he’d feel about the people who took to the street on July 8th, 2005 in protest of a government they fell no longer represents then and how he’d feel about the media that covers their struggle.
The second reason compelling me to refuse to cooperate with the Grand Jury subpoena is that this whole thing is not about what the government would have you believe it to be. This case is not about a videotape, it’s not about identifying suspects of a crime and it’s not about obtaining justice. If it were, then the U.S. Attorney would not have argued against the judge reviewing my outtakes in his chambers and the U.S. Attorney would have been more receptive to the inquires my defense team made.
No, this case is not about a videotape and it’s not about justice. This entire matter is about eroding the rights of privacy and those of a free press. It is about identifying civil dissidents and using members of the news media to actively assist in what is essentially an anarchist witchhunt. This is what I have suspected from the beginning, but it has been brought closer into focus with the government’s recent response to our motion. I will not allow myself to be put in a position of outing anarchists who likely are guilty of nothing more that possessing political beliefs outside the American norm.
How many of the freedoms promised to us in the Bill of Rights are still intact? How many more liberties will be eroded away? The future is uncertain, but at present the military continues to wage war in Iraq in the name of freedom. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the tragic irony of it all.
The role of the media is to ask the questions, to point at those inconsistencies, and to demand answers from the powers that be. This is why the media is under attack and this is why it is so urgent that we continue to fight back. Because without a free press we can never be free.
And I’ll conclude with the word of Mario Savio that defined the Free Speech Movement some 40 years ago and still possesses a tremendous vitality today. On December 2, 1964, in the city of Berkeley, Savio stated, “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even tacitly take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
Thank you, and I look forward to returning back to San Francisco just as soon as the government comes to its senses and realizes that I will not- that I cannot be coerced.
Joshua Selassie Wolf 98005-111
Federal Detention Center, Unit J2
5675 8th Street
Dublin CA 94568
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