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Blogger Jailed for Refusing to Turn Over Video

Blogger Josh Wolf, 24, has spent more than two months in a California prison for refusing to turn over video he shot of a demonstration to federal prosecutors.
Blogger Josh Wolf, 24, has spent more than two months in a California prison for refusing to turn over video he shot of a demonstration to federal prosecutors.

Federal prosecutors want video footage that Josh Wolf recorded at a demonstration in San Francisco in July 2005. Wolf says he's a journalist who shouldn't be forced to turn over his work. A blogger who once described himself as "an artist, an activist, an anarchist and an archivist," Wolf has now spent more than two months in a California prison for contempt of court.

Wolf is 24 years old, with big black sideburns and hipster glasses. He mostly covers left-wing activism. Sometimes he sells his footage of rallies and protests to local TV stations, which he refers to as "the corporate media."

The video that landed him in jail shows protesters in San Francisco rallying against a global economic summit. Many of the demonstrators are masked and call themselves anarchists. In the edited footage that Wolf posted on his Web site, protesters drag newspaper boxes into the street and spray paint the side of a bus. His video also shows a police officer wrestling a man to the ground.

The request for Wolf's unedited footage came as part of a federal investigation into an alleged assault on an officer and an attempt to set a police car on fire at the July demonstration. Wolf refused. He said he doesn't have any relevant footage.

What he does have, according to his attorney, Martin Garbus, is footage of demonstrators taking off their masks and identifying themselves. Garbus believes his client is being forced to serve as an arm of the government.

"It's an extension of the government's attempt to get at dissent in the society," Garbus says. If the government learns who the demonstrators are, he says, they will surely be closely watched.

Prosecutors emphasize that the people in the extra footage could be useful witnesses in the investigation of crimes committed during the demonstration.

"The taxpayers expect that people who commit crimes are investigated," says Luke Macaulay, a spokesman for the San Francisco U.S. attorney's office.

If the case had been prosecuted in state court, Josh Wolf might have been able to invoke the shield law that California offers for reporters. But a federal grand jury is handling the case, and there is no federal shield law for journalists.

There are also questions about whether bloggers are journalists at all. If they aren't, they would not be eligible for any sort of shield law. But the judge hearing Wolf's case said he didn't need to address that question, because federal courts don't have a law that protects journalists from being forced to turn over materials.

Wolf says he'll stay in prison indefinitely rather than surrender his video footage. That could keep him behind bars until the grand jury's term expires next July.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.