S.F. Journalist Jailed for Contempt Ordered Released Pending Appeal

Freelance video journalist Josh Wolf has been ordered released pending appeal without having to post bail. An order from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said Wolf should be released because his appeal appeared not to be "frivolous or taken for the purpose of delay."

While in custody, Wolf has kept things interesting by occasionally blogging about what he sees. Judith Miller even showed up to support him, ironically saying that much or what the government is calling national security is not making the public more secure. Talk about a mobius strtip of a person, although it is difficult to conceive of a shield that would not include her.

Wolf claims that he should not be forced to turn over video he shot of an anarchist demonstration because he is a journalist. This claim did not get him very far in federal district court where the judge ruled that there is no journalist's shield in federal court and rejected a second argument that Wolf risked incriminating himself if he turned over his tapes. He stated the case is a "a slam dunk for the government.''

My argument against what the government is doing is here. Whatever powers the government should have in the face of a legitimate terror threat, that is not what is happening here. Moreover, the feds are using a flimsy excuse to avoid the shield law that the voters put in the California Constitution. The San Francisco Chronicle, whose reporters face a few problems of their own, has editorialized for Wolf, realizing that the entire press is endangered if the government can turn all reporters into police investigators.

Wolf has several problems including (1) the ill considered campaign by the federal Department of Justice to eliminate, for once and for all, any claim to a federal journalist's shield, (2) the apparent ability of the justice department to avoid California's shield law by pursuing a state court case for vandalism of a police car in federal court on the ruse that the San Francisco Police Department receives federal funds and (3) if he can get past all that, Wolf's close identification with the group he was photographing so that his films are arguably agitprop for the anarchists.

The release is obviously a victory, but probably does not portend the final result one way or another. The standard for release pending appeal is a lot lower than what will be needed to win and there is no reason to think that the two judges who ordered the release will be on the panel that makes the ultimate decision.