Independent journalist Josh Wolf has been released from prison after spending over 225 days behind bars. The 24-year-old Wolf spent more time in jail than any journalist in U.S. history for protecting his sources. In the first broadcast interview since his release, Wolf joins us from San Francisco. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: After a record seven-and-a-half months behind bars, San Francisco video blogger Josh Wolf has been released. Wolf walked out of a federal prison in Dublin, California, Tuesday after prosecutors dropped a key demand that had made him the longest-jailed journalist for protecting a source in U.S. history. Wolf was jailed on August 1st of last year when he refused to turn over video that he had shot of an anti-G8 demonstration in San Francisco.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh Wolf’s release was okayed after prosecutors agreed to drop their effort to make him testify before a grand jury and identify protesters shown on his video. In return, Josh posted the uncut video on his website, gave prosecutors a copy, and testified he knew nothing about violent incidents at the protest.
In a national broadcast exclusive, Josh Wolf joins us now from studio in San Francisco. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Josh.
JOSH WOLF: Thanks, Amy. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: How does it feel to be free?
JOSH WOLF: It feels great and a bit overwhelming. It’s been sort of nonstop stimulus after spending over six months in a world where everything is the same, day in and day out, and there’s no real stimulus to speak of. So it’s a bit overwhelming, like coming to Manhattan for the first time, or something like that.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the deal you made with prosecutors.
JOSH WOLF: Well, basically, we came to an agreement that had been on the table since November, which is that while the video — while my unpublished video material should be protected, once I had been unsuccessful in all the appeals for the legal battle, there was no real point in maintaining control of material that had no — really no news value, no evidentiary value and was basically just my outtakes for editing purposes. There was nothing edited for content. It was all done for pacing and that sort of thing. So there was no real reason not to publish it, other than the fact that the government had subpoenaed it. So once we had lost those appeals, we inquired with the U.S. attorney as to whether or not there would be some possible thing where we could give up the footage and I could walk out. And the U.S. attorney was like, “No, we need the full cooperation of the subpoena, all demands.” And so, I sat here until the judge ordered into mediation, actually, I believe, the day after I last appeared on your show.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And then, in terms of the actual agreement, what happened to the video then?
JOSH WOLF: The video was first published on my website, and then, sometime after that, we filed a motion for my release along with a declaration, and the declaration contained a DVD with the same material that was posted on the website.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to explain, Josh, I believe when we first talked, you said that you were not, you know, gathering this videotape for the state, you were not going to hand it over to them, although you were sorry ultimately, you said, that you hadn’t just published the whole thing on your website to begin with. So why did you change your mind?
JOSH WOLF: Well, I think I was pretty — I tried to be very careful in my interviews and said I will not submit to the demands of the subpoena, I will not testify. I may have inadvertently said I will not turn it over, and I had wanted to just simply publish it and tell them to download it, but for some reason in the law you can’t just file an affidavit that says you can download the video at this website. And so, that was the compromise I didn’t particularly want to make, in that I was physically turning it over, but that’s a principle issue. And in reality, if they get it on a disk or they get it on a website, it really is only principle that are at stake there.
AMY GOODMAN: And you agreed — the prosecutors agreed, not only you wouldn’t have to testify, you wouldn’t have to identify people on this videotape.
JOSH WOLF: Well, the prosecutors simply agreed that I could submit a declaration providing the answers to two of their concerns, which they laid before me prior to me making any statements about those concerns.
AMY GOODMAN: And what were those two questions?
JOSH WOLF: They’re covered in the declaration itself. One is “Can I identify the person who Officer Shields was chasing?” which I have no idea who that was. And the second question was, “Did I witness the incident of the alleged attempted arson on the police car, the 'throwing the firecracker' or something of that nature?”
AMY GOODMAN: And what did you respond to that?
JOSH WOLF: That, again, I was filming his — Officer Shields’s partner during the time that that allegedly occurred, so it would have been impossible for me to see that happen, and my unpublished material demonstrates that.
JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of the time you spent in jail, was there any — your thoughts about how long that they might keep you? Did you get a sense that they were going to try to hold you indefinitely?
JOSH WOLF: I can’t say I think they were going to hold me indefinitely. It would have taken some legalistic gymnastics to pull that off. But it did seem quite evident that I was going to be there until January, after the grand jury had been extended twice. The reason that those concerns became apparent was the fact that the BALCO investigation, the Greg Anderson steroid scandal, is, we believe, in the same grand jury, and that’s been cited as one of the most pressing cases in the U.S. attorney’s office. So if this case is so important to them, more than likely I’m going to be stuck inside of that and not released ’til January, which would mean that unless a Grumbles motion were to be successful, and several people had indicated that it was highly unlikely that the Northern District was going to grant any Grumbles motions, on the grounds that it sets, you know, bad politics or that sort of thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Danny Schechter.
DANNY SCHECHTER: I’m worried about this on a bunch of levels. The use of grand juries against journalists is one of those concerns. Mediachannel.org has raised this issue, has supported you, Josh. We welcome you back. We’re glad you’re out. But, you know, beyond this, there’s the sort of persecution of journalists by a very compromised U.S. attorney’s office. We don’t know all the political factors behind the persecution of Josh Wolf here. This may be tied to this larger scandal — may not — of the U.S. attorney generals. I’d like to know that.
But also the fact that he’s a freelancer. You know, we have our media systems changing. There are so many more people who have video cameras, who are out there and who are not “journalists” in the normal traditional sense, but nevertheless do journalistic work. And they deserve protection under the First Amendment, but also support by media freedom groups. I was glad to see that the Committee to Protect Journalists finally got in on this case and began to demand his release. We need a more —
AMY GOODMAN: The Society of Professional Journalists named Josh “Journalist of the Year” in the Northern California chapter.
DANNY SCHECHTER: Yeah. Gradually, people did rally behind Josh. I’m glad that they did. We certainly did. But we need more vigilance on these issues, because this tactic is likely to be used again by people — federal prosecutors on fishing expeditions, looking for information and knowing the journalists won’t cooperate. They are quite happy to try to keep them in prison and prosecute them and send a signal and the like, and we have to send a signal back that this is unacceptable.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh, what are your plans now?
JOSH WOLF: Well, the next day or two, I’ll probably spend a lot of time doing interviews such as this one. I’ve got a couple projects that I’m trying to engage in. One is very focused on the issues that Danny Schechter just brought up, which is called “Free the Media.” I basically wanted to take the momentum that’s been gathered around my situation and develop a sort of interactive — a web 2.0 environment, if you will, for people to discuss and come to light with new issues, raise campaigns around any other people that should find themselves in the same situation. So that’s called “Free the Media” and is at mediafreedoms.net.
AMY GOODMAN: And just to explain, you were protected by the California journalist shield law, but we don’t have a federal journalist shield law. And because — at least the argument the U.S. attorney used, because there was some money that went into the buying of the police car that they say there was an alleged arson against, then that put you in a different category?
JOSH WOLF: Right, it’s not exactly that it put me in a different category. That’s what allowed the federal government to get involved, because the 14th Amendment says that there are certain things that are the state’s matter of order, and there are certain things that are within federal limits. And this shouldn’t have been able to even be accessible by the federal government. They basically used this whole “well, there’s some money in the police department” as a crux to get their hands into the situation and to circumvent the California State shield law. So that further shows why we need a federal shield law. If it’s protected in 49 states and the federal government can just make an inroad around the federal shield law, then this can affect independent journalists like myself, but also mainstream media just as equally. In fact, the argument that I wasn’t a journalist, which the U.S. attorney tried to put forward, didn’t even come about until after I had been incarcerated.
AMY GOODMAN: Last 20 seconds, Josh, your thoughts to share with people in this country and around the world about your prison experience and now what your plans are?
JOSH WOLF: It’s been quite a dramatic series of events, alongside which I’m finally glad has come to its conclusion. I think it demonstrates to the public that their media is really under attack. A free press is not something that the government is very fond of, and they’re going to do everything to try to stop that. And it’s time for us to realize how important it is for the free flow of information, because news is what you don’t — what people don’t want you to know. Everything else is PR. And we’re moving more and more towards a PR-based press, and that’s a very scary thought.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh Wolf, independent video blogger, recently released from jail, he was the longest imprisoned journalist in this country for refusing to testify before a grand jury, speaking to us in San Francisco. And we will link to his website.