Video blogger jailed for refusing to reveal sources
Sunday August 06th 2006, 10:24 am

jailing journos is anti-democratic24-year-old American blogger Josh Wolf shot some video of an anti-globalism protest in the Mission District of San Francisco on 8 July 2005. Wolf posted some edited video of the protest on his website and also sold some footage to local TV stations.

On 1 July 2006, a grand jury ordered Wolf to turn over his footage to the court. See also Wolf’s own Grand Jury Resource Page. Naturally, like any good journalist, Wolf refused to turn over the video on the basis of protection of confidentiality of his news sources. Wolf was found in contempt and taken into custody and may now potentially be held in a federal prison until the term of the grand jury expires next July.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Wolf. Wolf’s mum has taken over posting updates to his website while he is incarcerated. On the upside, Wolf’s case will be heard before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has a reputation of being somewhat liberal or left-of-centre in their judgements, meaning Wolf will most likely be freed upon hearing his appeal.

There are no federal shield laws in the US protecting a journalist’s right to conceal sources, though California has a shield law. Most US courts will, on the basis of tradition, grant an exception to allow journalists and publishers to maintain the confidentiality of their sources. If the courts wish to press the point, journalists can be imprisoned, as was Judith Miller of the New York Times for her role in the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame to the press. Wolf is being held in contempt on a federal grand jury investigation, so the California shield law does not apply. Also, there’s no specific legal definition of a “journalist” in the US, though any person who collects information for publication in the public interest is normally considered to be a journalist.

If journalists can not protect the confidentiality of their sources, there will simply be no sources. If the Bush Administration can get away with this, when government wants to suppress bad news about themselves, all they will have to do is jail a few journos to chill public speech.

Wolf is appealing for donations for his defence, anticipating up to $US15,000 in attorney’s fees and court costs. I’ve sent Josh a small donation; won’t you?


UPDATE: See the Time Magazine article on Josh Wolf; hat tip to Kieran Bennett.

MORE: AP via Wapo; SF Chronicle; SF Guardian; SF Bay Indymedia.

[…] Thanks to weez at Machine Gun Keyboard his post on this issue. […]

Pingback by » Blog Archive » Blogger Jailed for Refusing to Reveal Sources 08.06.06 @ 3:40 pm

Thanks for covering this. Loved your Judith Miller Comment.

Comment by FluxRostrum 08.10.06 @ 7:34 am

FR, no worries.

mgk readers should note that FR is referring to my comment on Josh Wolf’s blog to an entry his mum put up about Judith Miller’s unsuccessful attempt to visit Josh in prison:

Judith Miller would like to take on the mantle of ‘imprisoned journalist martyr’ to try to cover the stench of her arselicking of the Bushies and her getting sucked in by Chalabi in her unquestioning presentation of the Bush/Rove party line on the nonexistent Iraqi WMD. Josh doesn’t need too many friends like Miller.

Comment by weez 08.10.06 @ 8:28 am

…and he’s an anarchist.

From NYT, August 1:

“Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, said that although the jailing of journalists had become more common, Mr. Wolf’s case was the first she had heard of in which a blogger had been pursued and eventually jailed by federal authorities.

‘There is a tendency on the part of the prosecutors to go aggressively after people not perceived to have a big gun behind them,” Ms. Kirtley said. “They are the most vulnerable links in the chain.'”

I can’t find any ref to Josh’s case in the Australian media. Can you?

Comment by @ndy 08.10.06 @ 5:31 pm


I wanted to thank you for your comments on Josh’s blog and invite you to join his email support list and check out his support wiki. I am going to post some free Josh graphics that folks can post on their blogs in a few days so check back.

All the info on the email list and updates on his case can be found here:

Thanks again for the support!

Comment by samantha 08.16.06 @ 4:14 pm

@ndy, not a single mention in the Aussie press.

Happy to help, Samantha. 🙂

Comment by weez 08.16.06 @ 5:53 pm

[…] Thanks to all the bloggers who, along with me, ponied up donations for Wolf’s legal defence fund. […]

Pingback by mgk: Machine Gun Keyboard 09.09.06 @ 7:38 pm

[…] 2006, Machine-Gun-Keyboard reported on a video blogger jailed for refusing to reveal sources for video he captured during a anti-globalism protect in San […]

Pingback by The Outing of a Blogger: Is it Legal to Reveal a Blogger? | The Blog Herald 03.30.09 @ 5:21 am