Blogger? Journalist? Activist? Anarchist?
After serving more than seven months in federal prison, Josh Wolf has been freed after releasing to law enforcement, and the public, video footage he shot at a street protest against the G-8 Summit in San Francisco. Wolf has identified himself as a journalist, and, throughout his imprisonment, has insisted he be protected as such.
"Journalists absolutely have to remain independent of law enforcement," he said. "Otherwise, people will never trust journalists.'' But critics have questioned Wolf's self-identification as a journalist, pointing out that he identifies himself as an activist and anarchist on one of his Web sites.
Prosecutors have suggested that the 24-year-old Wolf has relished the notion that he has become a journalistic hero. As the San Francisco Chronicle notes, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Finigan said in a court filing that his "resolve to remain confined rather than comply with the grand jury subpoena is apparently fueled by his anointment as a journalistic martyr."
Yahoo News' Kevin Sites interviewed Wolf yesterday and tried to pin him down on the question of whether he is a journalist or something else. Here's part of the exchange:
Kevin Sites: Are you claiming to be an activist or a journalist?The lines between journalist and partisan can get pretty blurry – though most mainstream media journalists strive for objectivity, there are plenty of people who associate themselves with one side of the political spectrum or the other that most of us would readily call journalists. Wolf is an extreme example, as he identifies himself as an anarchist, but the nature of his political beliefs shouldn't necessarily be a disqualification for identification as a journalist.
Josh Wolf: I don't. I see that advocacy has a firm role within the realm of journalism.
Kevin Sites: Right, but as an advocate, you have to be willing to allow yourself to be jailed and expect the consequences of your actions. As a journalist, you're asking for certain protections, you know, from those consequences. That's why I'm asking you, you know, which side do you want to step on at this point.
Josh Wolf: My role is to uncover the truth to deliver to the public. That is my number one accountability.
What would seem to be a disqualification, however, is when you are an active member of a particular movement – an activist. Debra Saunders, a conservative columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, told Sites that "when you're an activist cavorting with the people you're chronicling, then you are not a journalist." After all, if an anarchist active in anarchist circles can ask for the protections afforded a journalist, couldn't Karl Rove, who is active in Republican circles, start a blog and do the same?