By: M.L. Stein
THE SAN FRANCISCO Independent is calling for a criminal investigation of a secret taping of a conversation between one of its staffers and a historian regarding missing artwork from the city’s War Memorial.
The newspaper said a War Memorial staff member, in an apparent violation of state law, recorded the dialogue between associate editor Susan Herbert and Paul Hardman on what happened to a collection of artwork dating back to San Francisco’s 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.
Hardman, a private citizen and former gallery owner, has been attempting to trace the missing paintings and statuary and have them returned to the city for display in the San Francisco History Museum.
According to an Independent story, Herbert and Hardman met in a War Memorial conference room to search through three boxes of old files relating to the 1915 exposition.
A War Memorial staff member was in the room observing the search and to duplicate any records the pair might want, the story stated.
When Herbert and Hardman finished, they requested photocopies of 105 documents and waited for them in a reception area where they continued to talk about the art items.
Later that day, the Independent said, an anonymous caller phoned Herbert that she and Hardman had been recorded at the War Memorial.
The paper said War Memorial executive director Thelma Shelley acknowledged the taping but said it was done without her knowledge. She said she immediately destroyed the tapes and reprimanded the employee.
In an editorial headed “A Reprehensible Taping,” the thrice-weekly Independent demanded a “full investigation” by the District Attorney’s office and the office of the U.S. Attorney General.
The paper said it had been advised by the California First Amendment Coalition that recording conversations without permission is a violation of the state penal code.
“The most alarming aspects of the surreptitious taping are the broad implications,” the Independent editorial observed. “If the privacy of an on-the-job reporter is not safe, whose is?”