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In a blog a few weeks ago, I discussed the fact that medical records of New York Giants’ defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had been obtained by an ESPN reporter who posted them on Twitter.  I had a problem with this, even though it was not a HIPPA violation. Pierre-Paul was involved in a fireworks accident in Florida over the July 4th weekend.  He is without a contract and, needless to say, suffering a severe hand injury seriously compromised his bargaining position and cost him millions of dollars.

It seems I was not the only one upset about JPP’s medical chart appearing online.  Some of his teammates and former teammates were not pleased .

Likewise, James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers who called the ESPN reporter an obscenity.

The reporter in question responded to the firestorm of criticism so I thought it would be fair to give his side. Here is what he said in an interview with

[Pierre-Paul] was a public figure and franchise player involved in a widely speculated accident with potential criminal behavior in which there was a cone of secrecy that surrounded him for five days that not even his own team could crack. This wasn’t as if some player were admitted to the hospital with a secret illness or disease—we’ve seen those cases over the years, as recently as this past year even. This one was different and unique for a variety of reasons. The extent of his injuries were going to come to light, maybe that day or later that week, but soon. They’re horrific injuries, incredibly unfortunate for the player. But in a day and age in which pictures and videos tell stories and confirm facts, in which sources and their motives are routinely questioned, and in which reporters strive to be as accurate as possible, this was the ultimate supporting proof.

Q.  Do you wish to make public how you obtained those images?
All I will say is I never once requested a single image from anyone at any time; the images came to me.

Q.  There were many people on social media who even if they understood this was not a HIPAA violation, they were upset with what they consider a breach of ethics by publishing the medical chart. Why was it not a breach of journalism ethics for you?
This is the part that I’ve struggled with because I’ve heard that questions raised and I’ve heard the criticisms. There’s no way not to consider the other point of view. But what I will say is this: My ethics, integrity and reputation are something I’ve worked as hard as possible to build and guard. In my 25-plus years of covering the league, I’ve consistently tried to act as responsibly and carefully as I can, and to not have anyone question my ethics. My job is to be as thorough and accurate as possible. In this case, as tough as the injury is for the player, I didn’t believe conveying the information about the unfortunate injury in words or a report caused additional harm. The information was going to come out soon. This was a very unique case, unlike many others. In trying to be thorough and accurate, we delivered that news as soon as possible with the supporting proof if it happened. To me, that’s just doing my job. But I am aware of the thoughtful discussion it generated. You think about it, you learn from it, and it becomes a part of your experience and thought process for if and when a similar difficult situation and decision should happen to arise again.

The reporter also said that he “would have encouraged [Sports Illustrated] to run the information if we procured it.”   He concluded (over-simplistically, in my view) that “this is all Monday morning quarterbacking. Reporters report, and that’s what [ESPN] did.”

I don’t buy the “reporters report” line as a justification for publicizing the confidential medical records of a professional athlete. Certainly, I am not against reporters reporting.  The fact that Pierre-Paul had a finger amputated and extensive procedures performed on his hand could have, indeed properly should have, been reported without posting his medical records online.  Indeed, it seems somewhat odd that one justification given by the ESPN reporter for his actions is that “[a]ll I saw in that record was the name, the age, the gender, and the patient’s finger amputated. It didn’t look to me as if there was anything else in there that could be considered sensitive. NFL reporters report on all kinds of medical information on a daily basis. That’s part of the job. The only difference here was that there was a photo.”

Thus, a portion of a hospital chart was tweeted because, it seems to me the reporter is saying, he didn’t really think there was much there.  So why do it?  I do not have a problem, really, with the information being reported (even though the reporter was not supposed to have seen the hospital chart in the first place). That’s reporting.  My difficulty lies in a layperson making a judgment that a hospital chart does not really show anything “sensitive” and then deciding to use the medical record as little more than a cheap prop.  Further, the ESPN reporter makes the point that he never requested the medical records.  If he never thought them important enough to ask for them, why were they deemed so newsworthy to be posted online?

So, the ethical question here is an easy call for me— it was wrong to post that hospital chart. Unfortunately, in other respects, Mr. Pierre-Paul’s situation is “complicated” in the word of Giants’ co-owner Steve Tisch.  Best wishes to JPP.


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