Guilty of independent journalism

Pub date November 21, 2006
WriterJohn Ross
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION The pogrom against independent journalists who refuse to conform to corporate media definitions of what a reporter should be continues full throttle. The murder of Indymedia correspondent Brad Will on Oct. 27 on the barricades in Oaxaca by gunmen in the employ of that southern Mexican state’s bloodthirsty governor segues into the denial of the courts to release 24-year-old Josh Wolf from prison during the life of a federal grand jury.
Wolf is charged with refusing to turn over video clips of an anarchist anticapitalist march on Mission Street during which San Francisco’s finest beat the living shit out of protesters (and at which one cop claims to have been maimed).
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is now insisting that it will entertain no further motions in the case, which insures Wolf will earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-serving imprisoned reporter in US history.
The callous and cynical response of corporate media (with some notable exceptions) to these outrages has been as grievous as the crackdown by the courts and the death squads on independent journalists. The New York Times and its accomplices — including the New Times version of the Village Voice — insinuate that Will was less than a journalist. Will, the corporados cluck, was a tree sitter and a squatter, a troublemaker rather than a young man who reported on trouble.
Similarly, Josh Wolf is often treated as a postadolescent blogger — as if blogging were not reportage — and an anarcho-symp unworthy of the concern of serious journalists who graduated from famous J-schools.
Compare how the plights of these two brave young journalists are being spun with that of the notorious Judith Miller. Miller, whose 11 mendacious front-page New York Times stories on Saddam Hussein’s fictitious weapons of mass destruction helped justify the Bush invasion that has now taken 650,000 Iraqi lives, was jailed for refusing to give up the name of a friendly neocon who outed a CIA operative the White House did not cotton to. I submit that Miller is as much an activist as Will and Wolf — she’s just on the wrong side of the barricades.
When I was a younger fool just getting started in the word trade, I was sent off to federal prison, much like Wolf. I was the first US citizen to be jailed for refusing induction in the Vietnam War military. I wrote my first articles while imprisoned at Terminal Island Federal Penitentiary in San Pedro and helped formulate a convicts committee against US intervention (everywhere), for which I was regularly tossed in the hole, the prison within a prison. Jail was fertile turf in which to learn how to write.
When, finally, I was kicked out of the joint, the parole officer who had made my life hell for a year walked me out to the big iron gate at TI and snarled, “Ross, you never learned how to be a prisoner.”
Brad Will never learned how to be a prisoner either, and neither will, I trust, Josh Wolf. All of us, both inside this business and out, owe these two valiant reporters a great debt for their sacrifices in defense of freedom of the press.
Live, act — and report back — like them! SFBG
John Ross
John Ross, whose latest volume, ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible — Chronicles of Resistance 2000–2006, has just been published by Nation Books, teaches a seminar on rebel journalism at San Francisco’s New College.