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Friday, September 15, 2006 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s...
2006-09-15

Jail Time For Journalists: The Government Crackdown on Reporters

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We speak with two journalists whose fates have been closely monitored by First Amendment advocates. Freelance reporter Josh Wolf spent 30 days in jail for refusing to give authorities a video of a protest he filmed in San Francisco. Lance Williams of the San Francisco Chronicle could soon be jailed for refusing to disclose confidential sources to the government in the Barry Bonds steroid case. [includes rush transcript]

As we continue our broadcast from San Francisco we turn to two local journalists whose fates have been closely monitored by First Amendment advocates.

One of the journalists just spent 30 days in jail for refusing to give authorities a video of a protest he filmed here in San Francisco. The other journalist could soon be jailed for refusing to disclose confidential sources to the government.

Josh Wolf is joining me in the studio — He is a 24-year-old freelance journalist and video blogger. Josh was jailed in August after he refused to hand over video he shot at a protest last year in San Francisco. He spent 30 days behind bars and potentially faces more time locked up. Sitting next to him is Ben Rosenfeld, one of his attorneys.

And on the phone is Lance Williams. He is a sports writer with the San Francisco Chronicle and the co-author of a groundbreaking book on steroid use in professional baseball. The book is titled: "Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports." Last month a federal judge ordered Williams and his co-author — Mark Fainaru-Wada — to reveal who leaked them grand jury testimony that revealed Barry Bonds and other baseball players had used performance-enhancing drugs.

  • Josh Wolf, freelance journalist and video blogger who was jailed for refusing to give authorities footage of a 2005 protest in San Francisco. He spent 30 days behind bars. He is the first blogger to be targeted by federal authorities for not cooperating with a grand jury.
  • Ben Rosenfeld, San Francisco-based civil rights attorney who is part of Josh Wolf’s legal team
  • Lance Williams, reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. He is co-author of the book, "Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue here in San Francisco, we turn to two local journalists whose fates have been closely monitored by First Amendment advocates. One of the journalists just spent 30 days in jail for refusing to give authorities a video of a protest he filmed here in San Francisco. The other journalist could soon be jailed for refusing to disclose confidential sources to the government.

Josh Wolf is joining us in the studio. He’s a 24-year-old freelance journalist and video blogger. He was jailed in August after he refused to hand over video he shot at a protest last year in San Francisco. He spent 30 days behind bars and potentially faces more time locked up. Sitting next to him, Ben Rosenfeld, one of his attorneys.

On the phone, Lance Williams. He is a sportswriter with the San Francisco Chronicle and the coauthor of a groundbreaking book on steroid use in professional baseball. The book is called Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports. Last month a federal judge ordered Williams and his coauthor, Mark Fainaru-Wada, to reveal who leaked them Grand Jury testimony that revealed Barry Bonds and other baseball players had used performance-enhancing drugs.

We turn first, though, to Josh Wolf. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOSH WOLF: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome out of jail. Tell us what landed you there.

JOSH WOLF: Basically, I had been shooting protests for both my blog, other journalist sources such as Indymedia, for about two or three years now. And I went out one day to shoot an anti-G8 protest that was going on in the city of San Francisco.

AMY GOODMAN: The G8 meeting was where?

JOSH WOLF: The G8 was going on in Gleneagles, Scotland at the time. It was last year. And that’s when the eight largest countries plan out various talks about how they’re going to do economic policies and those sorts of things. And so, there was a protest in solidarity with those who were protesting in Scotland at the time. And it just seemed like any other protest at first. I came out. I shot it.

During this protest, there was some sort of an altercation with a police officer, and the officer didn’t receive some significant injuries.

AMY GOODMAN: He did receive?

JOSH WOLF: He did. Quite significant injuries. I believe there was a fractured skull. I don’t know. I wasn’t anywhere near that incident occurring. But this is what the reports have bared out. I edited down the video that I shot that night. I had a contact at one of the local news stations and was going to provide some of the footage of this exorbitant police behavior that just didn’t seem appropriate, to be honest, to that station to kind of get the story out there. And the next thing I know, the FBI is knocking at my door wanting to talk to me. I basically kind of dodged a lot of their questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you let them in?

JOSH WOLF: I didn’t let them in. But what happened was the doorbell rang. I answered, and the guy in sort of like a Hawaii shirt and Bermuda shirts with a collapsible folder, filing folder-type thing, was at the door. And my first thought is like it was a reporter, maybe the LA Times, somewhere from Miami. He’s got this sort of tropical gig going on. And so, I’m like, "Oh, yeah." He’s like, "Can I talk to you for a while?" "Yeah, sure. What’s up?" And then flashes the FBI badge, just like in the movies. And then, about the same time, another FBI agent comes around, and then two SFPD investigators are there.

AMY GOODMAN: San Francisco Police.

JOSH WOLF: San Francisco Police Department investigators.

AMY GOODMAN: At your door.

JOSH WOLF: Yes. So it was four different people from both federal and local law enforcement, were at my door wanting to talk about what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you do?

JOSH WOLF: Basically, I ended up opening the door, seeing them, shutting the door behind me, and then realizing that I had just locked my keys in my house. So now I’m locked out of my house with these four investigators. And it’s really easy to shut the door on someone’s face and say, "I don’t want to talk to you." It’s a lot harder to walk out of your house through like a security gate, through them, to say that you’re not going to talk to them. It was a very frightening thing in that regards.

So I basically stuck to saying everything that I had already said publicly and focused on various things with the police that seemed to be outside of their normal procedure. Having covered probably 20 to 30 protests, I know what the policies that the police usually follow are. So I commented on how they didn’t follow what seemed like their own policies, in an attempt to try to handle the situation as best I could.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened then? How did you end up in jail?

JOSH WOLF: Basically, they asked for the tape. I told them they wouldn’t be able to have it at that point in time. Then I contacted an attorney, found out what I needed to say and that sort of thing. And six months later, they show up with a federal grand jury subpoena declaring that I need to bring the tape, the camera that I shot it with, I believe the computer, the software that I used, like this very exhaustive subpoena, also declaring that I have to testify. So then we started with a motion to quash the subpoena, which is basically saying that the subpoena should be taken away because of the journalistic concerns and how it would trample on my First Amendment rights. That was unsuccessful.

Then we filed some more things along those lines, until I found myself stuck having to face the federal grand jury, at which point I invoked a number of my constitutional amendments, was taken down to the federal court in front of Judge William Alsup, who then ordered me to comply with what the grand jury was asking. At that point, I basically went back up to the federal grand jury room, said the same thing I had said previously, and was taken — excused for the day, actually, at that point. And then, about two, three weeks later, I found out that they were pressing contempt charges against me. A couple more hearings, and the next thing I know, I’m in Dublin.

AMY GOODMAN: In Dublin, in jail?

JOSH WOLF: Yeah, at FDC, Dublin, not across the pond.

AMY GOODMAN: In Dublin, California.

JOSH WOLF: Yeah, Dublin, California. It’s a federal detention center.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did they, ultimately, after 30 days let you out?

JOSH WOLF: Two of the judges on the motions panel for the month of, I believe it was, August granted me bail on the grounds that my appeal to the Ninth Circuit was neither frivolous or for delay. So they basically said that, 'He really does have a valid case here. Let's hear it out, and he shouldn’t be in jail while we wait to decide this issue.’

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go on with your case, I wanted to bring in Lance Williams, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s a sportswriter, coauthor of the book, Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports. Why is the federal government going after you, Lance?

LANCE WILLIAMS: Mark and I relied on grand jury testimony for some of the reporting in our BALCO stories for the Chronicle. People who were familiar with the material about the steroids investigation helped us out to get these stories that really were important stories that got a lot of traction, especially in the world of sports. And, oh, shucks, 18 months after the stories were published, right after our book came out, we were subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. They want us to reveal the sources who helped us with our reporting. We had a hearing in attempt to quash, as Josh did, and were unsuccessful. Right now we have an appeal pending before the Ninth Circuit.

AMY GOODMAN: So a grand juror spoke to you?

LANCE WILLIAMS: We don’t talk about sources in that regard. We had access to some transcripts and quoted from them. There was testimony of Barry Bonds, the home run king for the San Francisco Giants, the testimony of Jason Giambi, the New York Yankees star. A lot of the — why it was interesting to people was, some of the athletes who were being called into a grand jury investigating steroid distribution out here at this lab called BALCO, athletes were going in there, and they were getting immunity from prosecution, and then most of them were admitting drug use. Then they — of course, this was in private. And then they’d come outside and be asked about whether they had used banned drugs, and, of course, they would deny it. So it was interesting for people who were concerned about the rising use of steroids in sport. The stories did prompt some reforms, got baseball finally to look at its lack of a drug testing policy and so forth. So they were serious stories, but the government, let’s say relatively long after the fact, decided to come after our sources. That’s where we are today.

AMY GOODMAN: You met with President Bush?

LANCE WILLIAMS: Yes. Mark and I had the great pleasure of going back to the White House correspondents’ dinner last year, not this year, the year that Mrs. Bush did the Desperate Housewives comedy routine in front of this gala, got a lot of headlines. Anyway, there was a private reception before the dinner, and we did get to meet President Bush. And he looked at us and said, "You’ve done a service." You know, he was a former owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. He was interested in steroid control, even talked about it in a State of the Union address in 2004. He knew our stories and praised us in a spontaneous way. There’s a little bit of an irony here, you know. A year later, we’re really under pressure from the Department of Justice and Attorney General Gonzales, who of course works for President Bush. There’s a little disconnect there, I guess.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you willing to go to jail?

LANCE WILLIAMS: Well, Mark and I always say, what happens to us isn’t up to us. We’re not willing to betray our sources. And what they really want to do to us, because of that, I guess we’ll have to submit to that process. But we just can’t and just won’t give up the sources. They helped us get important stories. They agreed to help us only because we said we’d protect their privacy and not drag them into the middle of a mess. And the only reason the government wants to have Mark and me testify is so they can go after the sources and punish them. So we said we’d take the hit, and we will. Hope we don’t have to go to jail, of course. I hope that we’ll get some relief from the courts.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Rosenfeld is joining us in the studio now. He’s Josh Wolf’s attorney. What are these reporters’ rights?

BEN ROSENFELD: Well, there are a couple of threads coming together here. In Josh’s case, particularly, he’s the victim of a general federal stepped-up campaign of harassment against activists and dissidents and, particularly in this case, against anarchist activists. And this was an anarchist-organized protest. And he’s also the victim of an increased campaign of government harassment against journalists in this kind of new world in which we’re living, in which the government expects and demands total obeisance by everybody in society and now including by journalists. Their rights are very weak under federal law, but they’re not nonexistent. And the court in this case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and before that the district court, failed to recognize that they do have First Amendment rights. But in California, they have very strong rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question, because we just have ten seconds. Josh Wolf, Judith Miller called you in jail?

JOSH WOLF: She did. She tried to contact me a couple of times. Basically, first she contacted me and did an interview. We exchanged numbers. Then I put it her on my call list and talked to her for a few times, which actually ended up creating a bit of controversy in the whole prison at one point or other.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you all for joining us: Josh Wolf, independent reporter; his attorney, Ben Rosenfeld; and Lance Williams, sportswriter with the San Francisco Chronicle.

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