Freed blogger calls release a victory

Video blogger Josh Wolf, who spent 226 days in prison, agrees to release his subpoenaed video footage and answer two questions.Video: Post-prison press conferencePhotos: A free Josh Wolf
Written by Erica Ogg, Contributor
SAN FRANCISCO--Although Josh Wolf agreed to release his subpoenaed video footage Tuesday, the longest-incarcerated journalist in U.S. history said his release is a victory for the media.

The video blogger held a press conference Tuesday evening on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall, following his release that day from a federal correctional unit in Dublin, Calif., where he was held for 226 days in contempt of court.

Wolf, 24, read a prepared statement to the small crowd of media and well-wishers. In it, he quoted a dissenting opinion from U.S. v. Caldwell, a 1972 Supreme Court case concerning coercion of a journalist's testimony: "As the years pass, the power of government becomes more and more pervasive. It is a power to suffocate both people and causes. Those in power, whatever their politics, want only to perpetuate it. Now that the fences of the law and the tradition that has protected the press are broken down, the people are the victims. The First Amendment, as I read it, was designed precisely to prevent that tragedy."

Josh Wolf

Wolf was held in contempt of court last year when he refused to hand over video he had shot of an anarchist protest in San Francisco on July 8, 2005. He was released Tuesday after agreeing to publish the unedited video on his blog, without being forced to testify before a grand jury regarding the content of the video, an outcome which he deemed a victory.

He also agreed to answer two questions posed by the prosecution, but only after he reviewed the questions beforehand, he said. The questions were whether he knew the identity of the person who threw an object at the police car during the protest, and whether he could identify the person that Officer Pete Shields, who was injured during the protest, was pursuing at the time. Wolf said he answered "no" to both. He agreed to answer the questions because "there was nothing to be given by them," said.

Answering the prosecution's questions was "a choice that I made, and I do think that it was a good decision," Wolf said.

Though the prosecutor reserved the right to subpoena Wolf again in the future, Wolf said he doesn't believe that is likely.

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"I don't think the government's going to (do that). We have close to a dozen cameras here...I don't think the government wants that press" again.

Wolf's position as a blogger, and not as a mainstream journalist, determined the tactics that the prosecutor used to try to get him to testify, he said.

The U.S. Attorney's case against him was not just about finding out who set fire to a San Francisco police car during that protest, he said, but was an "ugly political campaign."

However, Wolf was complimentary of his treatment in the federal facility. He said guards treated him "like a human." He elicited laughter from the crowd when he likened the facility to "being in a dorm with an RA."

Wolf appeared relaxed and in good humor throughout the press conference but became emotional when talking about inmates' disconnection with the outside world while in prison.

"When you're incarcerated, your voice is cut off," he said, choking up. Due to that experience, he plans to launch PrisonBlogs.net, which he described as "an old-school, peer-to-peer filing-sharing idea." But instead of music or videos, people will be able to share prisoners' letters through blogs.

A federal shield law for journalists is another cause that Wolf said he intends to pursue. He plans to start a "coalition aimed at preserving a free press" at the site Mediafreedoms.net, he said.

When asked what he will do now that he's free, Wolf said he looks forward "to getting back to committing journalism."

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