On the eve of Josh Wolf going to jail, and on the eve of Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada facing yet another federal decision moving them ever closer to jail, I was honored to be the lead speaker at the fundraiser and going-back-to-jail party for Josh last night at Crash, a club on Mason Street in San Francisco.
I made two major points: first, that this was the only city in the country to my knowledge that had three reporters who were in jail or heading to jail, on orders from Washington, for failing to produce sources and material in federal cases. This was no mistake. This was a direct hit at San Francisco, the country’s leading city for dissent and anti-war movements for decades, and came down directly from the Bush Administration and its PATRIOT Act politics as a way to scare the city and put its dissenters on notice.
My second point was that I was speaking as a member of many journalism organizations (from the Society of Professional Journalists, which has already contributed $30,000 to Josh’s defense, to the California First Amendment Coalition to the California Newspaper Publishers Association to international groups from the InterAmerican Press Association to the World Association of Newspapers to the International Press Institute) and that these professional organizations either are or would be in solidarity on this common ground journalism/public service issue. They could be counted on. But the Josh Wolf case was different because he was a lone freelance video photographer, without a news organization and attorneys behind him, and he looked like easy prey for the local cops and the feds.
That, I noted, was what was so important about the Crash event and the emerging Josh brigade. The event was lively, well attended, lots of fun, and demonstrated that a freelancer who stands tall, as Josh is doing, can build a strong grassroots constituency capable of mobilizing sustained resistance.
The real outrage is that the local cops turned Josh’s case over to the feds and gave them another timely target for Bush in San Francisco. And the cops did so secretly and unilaterally, without going to the mayor, to the supervisors, to the district attorney, to the Police Commission. The cops who are fighting like hell to keep beat patrolmen out of the neighborhoods and were happy to invite the feds to come to town and rough up our press and our public on their behalf. At minimum, that move demands public hearings by the supervisors to determine how this happened and what can be done to see that it never happens again.
Today’s Chronicle blaring front page head said: “SILENCE MEANS PRISON, JUDGE TELLS REPORTERS” No, silence in this case for these three reporters means principle and honor and holding your ground under fire. There is no principle or honor for the people in Washington who are working overtime to put in jail three reporters who were doing their job at this critical moment in the City and County of San Francisco.