Blogger ﾕ Joshwolf.net
Wolf’s imprisonment, unique in that it impacts social media, is also the latest in a series of journalistic run-ins with federal prosecutors, starting with the Valarie Plame leak case in 2005.
On February 6, 2007, blogger Josh Wolf broke the record for jail time spent protecting sources, 169 days, a term he’s still serving in Dublin, California. Wolf was imprisoned for refusing to turn over raw footage of a videotape showing protesters rallying in San Francisco against the G8 economic summit being held in Scotland in July 2005. His time in jail is reportedly the longest served by someone in the media.
Authorities demanded the entire, unedited tape from Wolf to investigate violence that occurred during the protest. Wolf refused and the matter was referred to federal court. Under federal jurisdiction, Wolf had no shield-law protection, which presumably would have been granted had he been tried at the state level.
Wolf’s status in the media community notwithstanding (He has no official affiliation. Is he a journalist? A blogger? Both?), his imprisonment once again raises the perception of government interference in the pursuit of a story and caps a series of journalistic run-ins with U.S. federal prosecutors over the last couple years. Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who has been a vocal supporter of Wolf, served 85 days for refusing to testify in the Valarie Plame leak case. Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time, narrowly avoided jail time by agreeing to testify in that same case after his source released him from his obligation to keep his identity confidential. Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle, managed to avoid jail in February for refusing to give up a source in a case involving possible steroid use among baseball players.
Cooper’s ordeal was also significant because Time Inc.’s editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine decided to turn over subpoenaed documents after Cooper was released from his confidentiality pledge by his source. That decision by Time, one that Pearlstine said did “not represent a change in our philosophy”, was criticized by many fellow media outlets for not holding its ground in a case which many said had huge implications for journalists’ use of unnamed sources.
Josh Wolf became the first blogger to be jailed for refusing to turn over a videotape to federal prosecutors. By April 1, he will have spent 222 days in jail.
Update: News outlets have reported that Wolf was released from prison on Tuesday, April 3. Prosecutors dropped his contempt charge when he agreed to turn over his video tape depicting the protests of the G8 summit. After his release, he posted the entire tape on his Web site.