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Blogger Freed After 226 Days in Jail For Contempt 224

Posted by Zonk
from the little-site-big-stand dept.
frdmfghtr writes "Over at CNN is a report that a blogger has been freed after spending 226 days in jail — a record for a journalist held in contempt. 'Wolf had been found in contempt for refusing to obey a subpoena to turn over his video from a July 2005 protest during the G-8 economic summit where anarchists were suspected of vandalizing a San Francisco police car. One city officer was struck during the rally and his skull was fractured ... California's shield law allows reporters to keep sources and unpublished material secret. But there is no federal shield law protecting reporters from federal investigations. The National Writer's Union, which represents freelance writers, said in a statement that Wolf should never have been jailed. "The abuses visited on Josh and other journalists are part of an effort by governments at all levels to control the volume, flow and content of the information that reaches the public," the union said.'"
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Blogger Freed After 226 Days in Jail For Contempt

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  • Delicate Balance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Baricom (763970) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @03:19AM (#18644135)
    Balancing the rights of journalists and the need for information by the legal system is extremely tricky, and to be honest, I'm not sure where the balance should lie in this case. My gut instinct is that the blogger should turn over the video, but part of me is yelling "slippery slope" inside.

    The most obvious standard for turning over material would be "criminal activity only," but that isn't liberal enough -- what happens when the alleged act shouldn't be a crime to begin with? (See, for example, the PATRIOT Act and DMCA, in many cases.)
    • Re:Delicate Balance (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nadsat (652200) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @04:46AM (#18644491) Homepage
      I don't feel he is just some fighting some blind cause. It was more than a matter of simply turning over the tape. Below, words from his blog - http://www.joshwolf.net/ [joshwolf.net]

      Contrary to popular opinion, this legal entanglement which has held me in Federal Prision for the past eight months, has never been about a videotape nor is the investigation about the alleged attempted arson of a San Francisco police vehicle as the government claims. While it is true that I was held in custody for refusing to surrender the tape and that the justification for making a federal case out of this was the police car, things are not always as they appear. The reality is that this investigation is far more pervasive and perverse than a superficial examination will reveal.

      When I was subpoenaed in February of last year, I was not only ordered to provide my unedited footage, but to also submit to testimony and examination before the secretive grand jury. Although I feel that my unpublished material should be shielded from government demands, it was the testimony which I found to be the more egregious assault on my right and ethics as both a journalist and a citizen.

      As there was nothing of a sensitive or confidential nature on my video outtakes, I had no reason to withhold their publication once I had exhausted all my legal appeals. When that point arrived I had already spent three months behind bars. I was advised by my legal team that publishing the video would not lead to my release; instead it would indicate to the court that my imprisonment was having a coercive effect even though it was not.

      This hypothesis was verified when one of my attorney's inquired whether the Assistant US Attorney would accept the footage in lieu of my testimony, he was told that the video alone would not suffice and that the US Attorney would accept nothing less than my full compliance with the demands of the subpoena. Things change.

      When the judge came to realize the support for my cause was growing and that I was unlikely to waver anytime soon, he ordered both parties to meet with a magistrate judge in the hopes we could reach a solution amenable to everyone. After two rather strenuous sessions of mediation, we at last came to an agreement that not only leaves my ethics intact but actively serves the role of a free press in our so-called free socieity.

      In the words of Justice Douglas, "The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring fulfillment to the public's right to know".
      • http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/politics/ l a-na-goodling7apr07,1,1880249.story?coll=la-news-p olitics-national&ctrack=1&cset=true [latimes.com]

        Because NY Times sucks, as it makes old articles 'pay for view'

        Wow, since when is history for sale? Ahh its only for the rich to know the truth.

        Any way... the US govt is evil, etc.. yadda yadda... scum bags , or shit bags.

        If Jesus was here today, he would turn those attorneys into instant dust and LOL, be damned, worship the ORI!!!
      • If this guy knows of some "anarchist" (asshole pis ant) commmiting arson or assaulting a police office, then he has a legal and moral obligation to come forward. If he doesn't, then all he to do was give them the tape and testify that he didn't see anything.

        Journalist have too high an opinion of themselves. They publish things from "anonymous" sources (made up, fake but accurate) and then hide behind the 1st to avoid getting caught. They spin facts to meet their political agendas (which they all have...ever
    • by porkchop_d_clown (39923) <mwheinz@@@me...com> on Saturday April 07, 2007 @08:12AM (#18645269) Homepage
      There is no constitutional right to obstruct an investigation. Quite the reverse. Journalist shields laws are inane precisely because of cases like this.

      What is a journalist? In an era when every single one of us "publishes" online, why aren't we all journalists? Given that we are, by any sane definition, all we have to do whenever subpoenaed is assert our right as journalists to keep our information to ourselves just in case we want to publish them.

      Even prior to this era, shield laws created a special, unregulated, class of citizen: "The Journalist." Unlike every other type of American, Journalists are permitted to keep secrets without oversight. While the government is supposed to conduct all it's operations in public, while celebrities have no expectation of privacy whatsoever, while intimate details of all of our lives have alway been available to anyone who wandered down to the county courthouse, we have decided that noble Journalists are uniquely trustworthy and do not require any scrutiny of their motives and actions?

      Feh.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        The constitution does not give rights. They are inalienable. By default you have the right to do anything.

        It says first what the government can do (Articles), what they cannot (Bill of Rights), then says the states can choose to restrict rights as they see fit (Penal Codes). Anything else remains a right.
  • "The abuses visited on Josh and other journalists are part of an effort by governments at all levels to control the volume, flow and content of the information that reaches the public," the union said.'"

    Except in this case Josh is the one trying to hide information. If that tape got out the "peaceful" protestor's PR spin of doing nothing wrong would be shattered.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 07, 2007 @04:28AM (#18644407)
    I'm very disappointed by the first dozen or so Slashdot comments. We all know most people who comment don't RTFA but this case is right up the alley of most Slashdotters...

    For those of us still in the world with free thinking and actually use the rights afforded to us by the Constitution, this is a worrisome trend. Since 9/11, local, state and federal officers in both uniforms and plain clothes have been monitoring protesters. In particular, they want to know who the leaders and most vocal of the bunch are. This is then followed by the creation of dossiers outlining the activities of these people who exercise their right to dissent against mainsteam political opinions. With the advent of the PATRIOT act and various other "terrorism" related laws, wiretaps, probing of bank records, etc. are used not only to intimidate but silence anything that Big Brother doesn't agree with.

    The point all of you have missed is that Wolf's footage never included vandalism of the police car--which was reported by the city of San Francisco to be nothing more than a broken tail light. The assault on the officer was captured only on a photograph by another protester and was also never part of Wolf's footage. The official reason for the subpoena the video was so the panel could see if any other potential crimes were committed. This however wasn't really the case because it was suspected Mr. Wolf knew the identities of people who choose to mask their faces during the protest. Mr. Wolf refused to turn these over because nothing else was needed from those tapes other than the profiling of activists at the protest and he didn't want to be compelled on the stand to give up those identities. Mr. Wolf and his lawyers believe there is no reason to comply with a Grand Jury not called in good faith to subvert his First Amendment rights--the reason it was called was because apparently Federal funds helped to pay for the police car. He stayed in jail for 286 but eventually gave in. This is very worrisome!

    Where is the Slashdot group-think now? So have all of you decided that you're now aligned with dossiers and profiling of people who exercise their Constitutional rights? Are we saying that any footage caught in a public place, even if we don't prompt the said incident, is our responsibility? I hope I'm wrong.
    • If the video really showed nothing, proove it to the court by allowing only the judge to see it - or something along those lines. You don't have to make it public or even turn it over to anyone.

      Since all anyone has is his word it showed nothing, yet he also seemed to be protective of the people who hurt the officer, the court was right to find him in contempt.
      • by Critical_ (25211) on Saturday April 07, 2007 @04:51AM (#18644513) Homepage
        The GP poster needs to be modded up for actually know what s/he is talking about. From the Wiki page on : [wikipedia.org]

        In a televised interview on February 9, 2007, Wolf and his attorney, Martin Garbus...

        Wolf stated during his portion of the interview via phone from prison that he has offered to allow the judge to review "in camera" the raw footage to determine if there's any applicable evidence within the video and the U.S. Attorney's office refused the offer based on a legal technicality. Wolf also said that the raw video doesn't offer any more applicable evidence of the arson or assault charges.


        It sounds like a witch hunt and you sound just like another poster who needs a good whack with a clue stick.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by dhwwwops (920864)
        During the course of this saga I have repeatedly offered to allow a judge to be the arbiter over whether or not my video material has any evidentiary value.

        Down the page just before the video.
        http://joshwolf.net/blog/ [joshwolf.net]
      • If the video really showed nothing, proove it to the court by allowing only the judge to see it - or something along those lines

        He did. But I guess you can't be hassled to look into the facts before you call the tragedy of him being held for nearly a year justified.
    • I think that parent has erroneously joined together two separate issues - cops collecting private information and cops collecting public information. I wish to try to separate them:

      For those of us still in the world with free thinking and actually use the rights afforded to us by the Constitution, this is a worrisome trend. Since 9/11, local, state and federal officers in both uniforms and plain clothes have been monitoring protesters. In particular, they want to know who the leaders and most vocal of the bunch are. This is then followed by the creation of dossiers outlining the activities of these people who exercise their right to dissent against mainsteam political opinions.

      This is simply cops doing their job. When the non-mainsteam opinion is linked with violent crimes, a cop should be able to keep track of public actions and expressions. ( If the crime were, say, the gay-bashing and subsequent death of the guy in Wyoming, shall we deny the cops the ability to keep track of public anti-gay

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Further comments about the distinction between public and private:

        The purpose of a shield law is to allow people to speak privately to journalist ( and BTW, I'll agree that Wolf qualifies as a journalist ). If he has private interviews of the rioters, they should be protected. If he personally knows the rioters - and there are reasonable claims that he does - that information is private and should be protected.

        But the riots were a public act. Wolf taped them as anyone - including the cops - could
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by pcgamez (40751) *

          Further comments about the distinction between public and private:

          The purpose of a shield law is to allow people to speak privately to journalist ( and BTW, I'll agree that Wolf qualifies as a journalist ). If he has private interviews of the rioters, they should be protected. If he personally knows the rioters - and there are reasonable claims that he does - that information is private and should be protected.

          But the riots were a public act. Wolf taped them as anyone - including the cops - could have.

          The real question here is: should a journalist should be allowed to take something that is public and make it private, and then claim protection under privacy laws?

          Why is it that nobody here is bothering to read the background on this story? This case has NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH THE VIDEO FOOTAGE. Good god, when are you going to learn to actually read something before you post.

          Wolf offered to release the tape multiple times. The stumbling block has always been that he was ordered to essentially provide a profile to the secret grand jury about all the people he knew of that were at the riot. This part had nothing at all to do with the damaged police car and everythi

          • Let's skip the ad hominems about who has read what. To paraphase Twain, doing such a thing on slasdot will please a few and amaze the rest.

            Wolf offered to release the tape multiple times. The stumbling block has always been that he was ordered to essentially provide a profile to the secret grand jury about all the people he knew of that were at the riot. This part had nothing at all to do with the damaged police car and everything to do with the government wanting to know who the political dissidents are

            I mostly agree with the above that this is about "the government wanting to know who the political dissidents are." But this is not neccesarily a problem. They ought to be able to do that if their aims are crime-solving and not political.

            As the GGP says, "This is simply cops doing their job. When the non-mainsteam opinion is linked with violent crimes, a cop shou

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Kesh (65890)
              He should hand over the tape ( because it is public ) and make his stand on the stuff in his skull ( because it is private ). He should not impede legitimate law enforcement by trying to deliberately mix the two.

              He was not. Read his comments again: the prosecutors refused to only accept the tape. He had to agree to identify the protestors on the video as well. So he was willing to do what you said; the prosecutors were not. They were fishing.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          But the riots were a public act. Wolf taped them as anyone - including the cops - could have.

          The real question here is: should a journalist should be allowed to take something that is public and make it private, and then claim protection under privacy laws?

          It's a good thing Woodward and Bernstein weren't filming their conversations with Deep Throat... After all, it was a public parking garage, and, presumably, the police potentially could have been recording that, in some way.

          How is it that the right to pr

          • Actually, Deep Throat is a good example. He went to great lengths to make the conversation private - potted plants used as signals, standing in shadows, whispering, pausing to looking over his shoulder, etc. And it is that effort and intent that counts, doing something so that one has a reasonable expectation of privacy, even if some ingenious cop cirumvents it.

            And the fact that the particular media is video is not relevant. He should turn over any media if the subjects had no reasonable expectation
            • by evilviper (135110)

              And it is that effort and intent that counts, doing something so that one has a reasonable expectation of privacy, even if some ingenious cop cirumvents it.

              Your excuses to justify your opinion have NO basis in reality. There is no legal recognition of privacy, no matter how sneaky you intend to be, in a public space.

              The only expectation of privacy is the recognized right of the press to not be compelled to reveal sources, and that absolutely applies just as much in public, as it does in private.

              You're obvi

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