Punk sprung

Remember the insufferable Josh Wolf? He’s back on the streets, the enemy of police and the people they protect and yet another martyr for the self-absorbed press everywhere. Perhaps, if we’re fortunate, there’s a haircut out here for him. The Washington Post reports:

A San Francisco blogger who spent nearly eight months in jail for refusing to testify about an anarchists’ demonstration was released yesterday after turning over a videotape of the protest and posting it on his Web site.

Josh Wolf, 24, also answered two questions from prosecutors, after striking a deal that ends the longest contempt-of-court term ever served by someone in the U.S. media.

“I’m completely satisfied with the resolution,” Wolf said by phone from California one hour after being released. “There’s a very large problem with forcing a reporter to act as an investigator for a government prosecution. . . . It’s absolutely a victory.”

Since the video captured no violent incidents, he said, “it wasn’t worth being a martyr for no purpose.”

Yeah, that’s for sure. Did you know witnesses to a crime — like the splitting open of a cop’s head, which was what happened here — who have evidence, are transformed into “investigators for a government prosecution” if they are asked to just turn it over? No matter how inconsequential their information? After all, as the Post says, “A viewing of the video leaves unclear why Wolf fought so hard to protect it.” How about self-absorption and contempt for the society that enables him to live indefinitely — and just ending now, rent-free for half a year — as a punk slacker?

Check out his site (click at the graphic above) — he got every bouquet the journalism cult, demanding its special exemptions from participation in the society that enriches them, could throw him while cooling his heels in the joint. I don’t question whether he was acting as a “journalist” at the time — I continue to agree that journalism is something you do, not something you get get to be by virtue of some credential. But I think if you have evidence of a crime, regardless of whatever you were doing when you got it, yes, you give it to the cops. Not according to the subversive media’s view of citizenship circa 2007, however — and once again, we are reminded of why no one likes or trusts the professional media any more. The good news: With God’s help, Josh Wolf’s 15 minutes is over. Hat tip to Evan Brown.

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Ron Coleman

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5 thoughts on “Punk sprung

  1. So now that everyone carries a cell phone with a camera connected, can we all be journalists and legitimately argue that everything we witness can not be addressed in a court of law?

    I don’t care if the guy was the editor of the New York Times. If you witnessed someone getting abused like he did, and refuse to help law enforcement find out who it was, you are a world class idiot. Having a camera doesn’t change the facts one bit.

  2. I’m a bit uneasy about your position on this. Are you saying that when the government is attempting to prosecute somebody for something, they are always right, and everybody has a duty to cooperate with them? Then do you also applaud Yahoo’s decision to turn in information about Chinese dissidents to aid in their prosecution / persecution? If somebody withheld evidence to frustrate efforts to enforce Southern segregation laws in the 1950s, would they be similarly wrong in your book?

  3. You nailed it in this instance Ron. There is no question that Wolf is a “jouranlist” here. But the entire “journalist exception” has been problematic from the start. Now that we are in a digital age, it is simply unsustainable.

    Either courts will have the power to compell evidence, or it shouldn’t. If it shouldn’t have such power – the justice system as we know it would collapse. Trying to claim a “journalist exception” and then try to argue who and who is not a “journalist” is pure folly.

    Dan – re: your comment from 12:28pm. Obviously not all government prosecutions are correct. But everyone does INDEED have a duty to cooperate with an investigation (unless the law specifically allows otherwise). The solution is to have a watchdog over the underlying prosecution charges themselves – not to undermine the general power and validity of investigations in furtherance of such charges.

  4. Hi Ron-

    For my part (and God knows I may not be right), it seems to me there is a distinction between witnessing an event (i.e., a crime) happening contemporaneously and interviewing someone after a crime has taken place.

    In the former, whether you are a journalist or John Q. Public-Citizen, your witnessing of an event is more happenstance than pursuit of a story as a journalist. Moreover, the “source” of the videotape (as I understand the situation) was the journalist himself. I am not quite sure what he was protecting by exercising his 1st Amendment rights. He was the source and everyone knew that. Refusing to turn over the ENTIRE recording to authorities seems to be protecting his right to profit from the crime than the “source” – since he was the source.

    By contrast, if in the course of investigating the protests, a journalist meets someone who has a videotape of the riots and crime an secures that tape (or a copy of it) by agreeing to protect the source’s anonymity, I believe that is a different situation. This is not the result of happenstance. The cassette was procured in the course of actively investigating a story as a journalist. This, I believe, is different. This is more akin to the Watergate/Deep Throat situation where the journalist was not required to disclose his source of a crime that had already occurred.

    From my perspective, there is a difference between actively researching a past crime as a journalist and being a witness to a crime. I believe that should dictate what kind of information is protected rather than a blanket exception because one self-identifies as a journalist. Really…even attorney-client privileges only applies to certain communications between lawyer and client, and the clergyman-penitent privilege applies to types of communications – not all communications.

    As a final matter, it seems that Mr. Wolf was not acting as a journalist since he sold the video excerpts to the highest bidder rather than simply posting them on his own blog as “journalism”.

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