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Newspaper: Jerry Brown spokesman surreptitiously taped calls with reporters

A spokesman for California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown has surreptitiously recorded telephone interviews with news reporters, a practice fraught with legal and ethical concerns, according to a San Francisco newspaper.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported the practice after a reporter discovered that Scott Gerber, Brown's spokesman, failed to inform her that he was recording while she interviewed two other people in Brown's office over the telephone.

The Chronicle quoted a ranking lawyer in the office as saying that Gerber had recorded "a few other" conversations with reporters and would halt the practice.

A state law bars telephone recordings without consent of both parties if the conversations are considered confidential, said David Greene, executive director of the Oakland-based First Amendment Project, which provides legal service on free speech issues and free press issues.

Greene said communications between Brown's office and a reporter who is conducting an interview probably would not be considered confidential. At issue is whether one of the parties had a reasonable expectation of privacy, Greene said.

"I don't know if it is illegal," Greene said. "It is unseemly that they would not just inform the reporters they were recording the conversations."

Brown's office said it was preparing a statement on the issue.

The taping was revealed after Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci sought information about Brown's summary of a ballot measure.

The paper said Gerber called her with a response and told her that two other high-ranking lawyers in the office were on the line to answer her questions.

When Marinucci's story was published on the Chronicle's website, Gerber contacted an editor at the paper to complain about accuracy and e-mailed the editor a transcript of the conversation, the newspaper said.

-- Maura Dolan

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Comments () | Archives (5)

So, did the emailed transcript show that the reporter was inaccurate in her story?

I thought that you are not allowed to surreptitiously record phone calls in California. I thought that prior t recording the conversation, you need to:

1. Ask permission of all parties in the conversation.
2. Keep a sounding device on that "beeps" periodically to remind callers that they are being recorded.

It is kind of funny that the newspaper is complaining. It is only an issue because their reporter seems to have messed up - whether intentionally or not. I think they ought to assume they are being recorded. I think the interviewee is more at risk than the reporter, who holds the power of the pen.

I have to go with Josh on this. Was the journo's story correct?

It is very common for media interviews to be taped by both the reporter and the person being interviewed (or their press person) for the exact reason of accuracy noted in the story. This should not have been a suprise to the reporter.


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