Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Arrogance at work?!?

It never fails to amuse me whenever the subject of surreptitious telephone recordings comes up.

For it seems the Chicago Tribune had some of its telephone interviews with city officials recorded by the city without the reporter-types being made aware of it first.

OF COURSE, MAYOR Rahm Emanuel is trying to dismiss the matter as “much adieu about nothing.” After all, it was the city that potentially violated Illinois law that says recordings of telephone calls can only be legal if all parties involved in the call are aware of the recording taking place.

He’d probably be screaming and screeching for prosecution if it was the Tribune-types who had turned on the tape recorder (even though most of the recording devices I see these days don’t use tape of any kind) and recorded city officials.

Personally, I prefer not to use audio recording devices when I report. In part because I can keep up with conversations with my written (or sometimes, typed) notes.

But also because making a recording of an interview then means that one has to listen to the whole thing and make a transcript of sorts, before the writing process can begin.

IT REALLY TAKES far too much time – particularly when one is on deadline. By taking notes by hand, I find I listen more closely to an interview while it takes place; and can usually pick out the parts that I would want to quote.

So this isn’t an issue I encounter too often. Although it does now have me wondering just how many of my telephone calls to city officials (or other governmental units) still exist on audio – if ever anyone were ambitious enough to take the time to listen to all the hours of conversations that may have taken place.

They’d probably become so bored that they’d turn into drones long before anything of interest was actually said.

In this particular case, it seems that city officials are admitting that Tribune reporter-types were recorded while interviewing Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy just over a year ago. City officials are trying to downplay this as an inadvertent recording, and not some regular policy on the part of the Chicago Police Department or municipal government in general.

I SUPPOSE WE really don’t know how truthful that is – although to tell you the truth, I usually figure that just about any call made to a law enforcement agency has the potential to be recorded.

Some departments are at least honest enough to give you the warning that your telephone call is being recorded – so that in theory you can hang up before actually saying anything.

Just in case you actually have a legitimate reason to not want to have your voice recorded on tape. Which ultimately is your own business, and not anyone else’s!

I would have an easier time accepting the city’s take on this issue as not being all that significant, EXCEPT for the fact that I can pretty much envision how bent out of shape those same city officials would get if they thought someone was recording them.

I STILL RECALL one moment from when I worked for United Press International and had to interview a prosecutor by telephone in one of the rural Indiana counties that’s not really a part of the Chicago-area, but is close enough to warrant some attention.

That particular prosecutor wound up saying nothing of significance and in fact was convinced I was recording his voice – even though I wasn’t.

What really bothered him was when he heard the clacking of my typing on a computer keyboard (I was taking notes of our conversation), and he tried to argue that even a written record constituted an illegal recording of our ultimately pointless interview.

I have no doubt that if city officials could somehow turn this issue around against the Chicago Tribune, they’d do so in an instant! Even though this may well be a petty instance, it probably is something where we all ought to be concerned.


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