Has Hearst forgotten about Josh Wolf--soon to be the longest jailed journalist in U.S. history?


By Bruce B. Brugmann

I was delighted to read in the Saturday (Jan. 20) San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco "added her voice to a growing list of lawmakers urging Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to drop the prosecution of two Chronicle reporters who face l8 months in prison for refusing to name their sources for stories about steroid use in professional sports."

I was also delighted to see that she sent a three paragraph letter calling on Gonzales to withdraw the subpoenas of Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada asking them to identify their confidential sources.
I was further delighted to see that the letter came after she met in her new Capitol Hill office with Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein and Fainaru-Wada.

And I was delighted to see that the Chronicle, in a story by Zachary Coile of the Chronicle Washington Bureau,
gave it prominent display and a nice head ("Pelosi urges halt to prosecution of Chronicle writers") and a nice subhead ("Letter to attorney general also calls for federal shield law") on the upper right corner on page four.

However, I was startled and quite annoyed to find that, suddenly, the Chronicle/Hearst and Pelosi seemed to forget that there is a third journalist involved in a similar government subpoena case, Josh Wolf, who is the only U.S. journalist presently in jail and will soon be the longest jailed journalist in U.S. history.

Pelosi and her office staff have refused to meet with Wolf's mother or his supporters, saying to her and to the Guardian that she can't interfere in a judicial matter.
To its credit, the Chronicle up to now has covered the Wolf case thoroughly and supported him editorially.
What happened?

I sent the following questions off by email to Bronstein and
Coile: What happened to the Wolf case? Why wasn't it mentioned in your story? Did you ask Pelosi or any other congresspeople to support Wolf and ask that he be released from jail on the same basis you are using to keep your reporters out of jail? If not, why not? If they don't answer me, I hope they explain their apparent double standard to Josh's mother (see her appeal below, written before the story appeared.) I hope they refresh their editorial judgment that the journalistic principle of resisting government subpoenas applies equally to Hearst reporters and freelance journalists such as Wolf and Sarah Olson. B3

SF Chronicle: Pelosi urges halt to prosecution of Chronicle writers Letter to attorney general also calls for federal shield law

E-mail from Josh Wolf's mother:

Subject: Please write to congress NOW to support Josh

There is a move in Congress to rescind the subpoena's which put the two SF Chronicle reporters under grand jury contempt charges, but no mention or attention is being paid to Josh's case, a similar first amendment issue, where he has already been in jail for 150 days.

Below is a sample letter to use to send to John Conyers and Tom Davis (representing the House Judiciary Committee), Nancy Pelosi (who represents Josh's district) and California senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. Representative Dennis
Kucinich is also aware of and interested in Josh's case.

January 19, 2006

To Representative John Conyers

From Liz Wolf-Spada
PO Box 2235
Wrightwood, CA 92397

Dear Representative Conyers,

While I find it commendable that Congress is finally getting involved in the questionable legality of grand jury subpoenas of journalists, I am appalled that no mention has been made of my son’s case. Josh Wolf is not facing a subpoena. HE HAD BEEN
Josh Wolf is an independent journalist who reports on local San Francisco activities, with a special interest in protests and demonstrations. He has been reporting on these events on his web site for over three years and has a large following. One of his
videotapes from a protest of June 8, 2002, is currently being used to prosecute cases of police brutality against jailed protestors.
Unlike the Chronicle reporters, Josh does not have a large corporate media conglomerate backing him or paying his bills. He was not given a stay, but was immediately put in jail on August 1, 2006, when Judge William Alsup ruled him in contempt for refusing to turn over unpublished video footage and for refusing to testify. Since then, Josh’s lawyer, Martin Garbus, has offered to give the unpublished material to the US Attorney in exchange for them dropping the subpoena to testify. The US Attorney refused this offer. The judge refused to view the tape to see if it had any relevance to the supposed investigation into an alleged attempt to burn a police car. The police car in question suffered only a broken taillight.
Josh cannot get permission from his sources to testify. His sources are the large group of dissidents in San Francisco who are exercising their first amendment rights to free speech and assembly. The attempt to intimidate Josh to name names of people
present at that protest not only goes against our rights to a free press, but it goes against our rights to free speech and assembly.
I urge you to petition Attorney General Gonzales to dismiss this contempt charge against Josh Wolf and release him from prison, where he has been held in coercive custody for 150 days.

Liz Wolf-Spada
(mother of jailed journalist, Josh Wolf)