Two San Francisco Bay Area journalists who paid heavy prices for venturing into extraordinary conflict—one sent to federal prison for more than seven months, the other shotgun-slain on the street—have their full stories told for the first time in newly released chronicles that show the limits of the First Amendment in keeping the press free from government coercion or criminal attack.
The capsule description of documentary film-maker “Activist Blogger–The Josh Wolf Story,” just released on DVD, reads:
Blogger Josh Wolf sparked a national debate and gained international notoriety when, at the risk of imprisonment, he refused to surrender his video of a San Francisco demonstration to federal authorities. He consequently spent 226 days in a federal penitentiary – the longest in U.S. history for a journalist protecting his source material.
Hailed as a hero by many for courageously upholding the principles of a free press – Wolf received the Journalist of the Year Award from the Society of Professional Journalists while he was imprisoned – he provoked others to question his standing as a true journalist with his blogger status and activism.
The thumbnail summary of investigative reporter Thomas Peele’s book “Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism’s Backlash, and the Assassination of a Journalist,” just published, reads:
When a nineteen-year-old member of a Black Muslim cult assassinated Oakland newspaper editor Chauncey Bailey in 2007—the most shocking killing of a journalist in the United States in thirty years—the question was, Why? “I just wanted to be a good soldier, a strong soldier,” the killer told police. A strong soldier for whom?
“Killing the Messenger” is a searing work of narrative nonfiction that explores one of the most blatant attacks on the First Amendment and free speech in American history and the small Black Muslim cult that carried it out. Award-winning investigative reporter Thomas Peele examines the Black Muslim movement from its founding in the early twentieth century by a con man who claimed to be God, to the height of power of the movement’s leading figure, Elijah Muhammad, to how the great-grandson of Texas slaves reinvented himself as a Muslim leader in Oakland and built the violent cult that the young gunman eventually joined. Peele delves into how charlatans exploited poor African Americans with tales from a religion they falsely claimed was Islam and the years of bloodshed that followed, from a human sacrifice in Detroit to police shootings of unarmed Muslims to the horrible backlash of racism known as the “zebra murders,” and finally to the brazen killing of Chauncey Bailey to stop him from publishing a newspaper story.