Three years ago, the Chron came upon a remarkable story about San Francisco police spying on reporters — and didn’t print a word about it until yesterday, a month after the story broke in an alternative weekly. The story was that police checked records of calls made from a phone used by journalists at the city’s Hall of Justice in an unsuccessful attempt to find out who leaked a memo about the department’s “fajitagate” scandal. The Chron’s owner, Hearst Corp., sent some harsh letters to the city but ultimately decided against taking any legal action. It appears the Chron was forced to write about the matter after A.C. Thompson of the SF Weekly broke the story on Sept. 27. In Sunday’s Chron story, deputy managing editor Stephen R. Proctor is quoted as saying, “Part of the reason I didn’t have the story assigned was that the police hadn’t done anything illegal … I probably should have given more weight to the question of whether they had done something improper.”
• Retired police inspector, Reno Rapagnini: “I’m embarrassed that the Chronicle would not go to war about these issues … It’s about freedom of the press.”
• Former police chief Willis Casey: “I don’t want to say what was done was unethical, because that is too strong a word. But I think it is a breach of mutual respect, one which I, personally, would not have done.”
• Police Commissioner Theresa Sparks: “It’s outrageous. It’s totally outrageous … To me the press rooms, both at City Hall and the Hall of Justice, should be neutral territory. The press should be able to call who they want to call. … To me it just smells bad.
• Police Commissioner and school district attorney David Campos: “First Amendment guidelines are critical … Any allegation that the Police Department engaged in something similar to what HP did is a serious allegation that needs to be looked into.”