Did ESPN’s Adam Schefter Do Anything Wrong By Tweeting Private Medical Records?

By Brian Flood 

NFL Star Jason Pierre-Paul reportedly had his right index finger amputated on Wednesday after an accident that allegedly lighting fireworks on July 4 at his South Florida home. The aftermath has raised serious questions regarding journalism ethics in the modern age of social media. We know about the amputation, because ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter posted images from Pierre-Paul’s medical chart on Twitter, claiming the network “obtained” the information.

The tweet resulted in a firestorm of backlash, with many people accusing the veteran journalist of violating HIPAA laws. ESPN responded with the following statement: “HIPAA does not apply to news organizations.” 

If you’re not familiar with HIPAA, it’s the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 that requires “covered entities” to protect the privacy of individuals’ medical information, and imposes significant penalties on those entities that violate the law. Violators can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison and fined up to $250,000 in criminal penalties. However, ESPN is correct and the law does not “directly apply to the news media (unless a media employer acts as a health plan or healthcare provider – by offering onsite medical care, for example; or a reporter works for a publication that is covered – such as a hospital newsletter),” according to the Pennsylvania News Media Association.

So, ESPN won’t be in any legal trouble… but the hospital employee who leaked the images better hope Schefter protects his source. Anyway, was Schefter wrong from an ethical standpoint? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.