What’s wrong with this headline?

The story:

LOS ANGELES — UCLA Medical Center will fire some employees and discipline others for snooping at the confidential medical records of Britney Spears, who was hospitalized in its psychiatric ward, a hospital official told The Associated Press.

Jeri Simpson, the hospital’s director of human resources who was involved in the investigations of the confidentiality breach, confirmed the action but could not say how many employees were affected. The hospital did not say when the snooping took place or which of Spears records were looked at.

The Los Angeles Times reported on its Web site Friday that the breaches occurred during Spears most recent hospital stay. While the disciplined employees were unable to access her psychiatric records, they did look at non-psychiatric records from her previous visits to the medical center, the Times reported.

The headline?

Britney Spears Gets Hospital Workers Fired

Now, is it just me, or does that headline seem to imply that Spears was the one demanding that the employees lose their jobs? Because she’s an overentitled celebrity who crushes the little people wherever she goes. She’s an unreasonable diva, squashing those poor people who did nothing at all wrong! Clearly, it was a hissyfit!

Well, except for the part where Spears is* hospitalized, and these people were breaking medical privacy laws (HIPAA, anyone?) by snooping in her medical records, even if — as far as anyone knows — the information in them hasn’t been leaked to the press. Luckily, they couldn’t access her psychiatric records, but they did look at confidential information from her prior stays at the hospital, such as when she gave birth to her sons.

I don’t know if the headline was written by the AP or by HuffPo, but HuffPo has a neat little feature that allows you to compare different versions of a story. The earlier version had this headline:

Hospital to Fire Workers in Spears Case

Guess it wasn’t quite as sexy as the one that positioned Spears as responsible for the firings.

Both versions, however, have the following paragraph:

Leading up to the hospitalizations, Spears had been behaving bizarrely. She shaved her head, was seen in public without underwear, ran over a celebrity photographer’s foot and attacked a vehicle with an umbrella.

Of the items on this list, one kind of stands out as being not particularly indicative of mental problems; and, indeed, indicative more of the level of privacy invasion that this woman has to put up with every time she steps out of her door. Really, no one would ever know that Britney Spears “was seen in public without underwear” had the pack of paparazzi who hound her relentlessly not had their lenses trained up her skirt. Someone will undoubtedly raise her celebrity status in comments, and argue that she sought fame, so why should she have any expectation that they’re *not* going to be shooting photos up her skirt? IOW, she asked for it by being a celebrity.

Well, there are two answers for that. Number one, she became a celebrity not as an adult, but as a child, pushed by her family. And number two, that argument is, frankly, probably what those 13 hospital employees told themselves when they snooped into her medical records.

* Actually, is she? I confess I haven’t been keeping close tabs on her whereabouts lately.


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19 comments for “What’s wrong with this headline?

  1. March 15, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    The mainstream media are still mainlining misogyny on a run that started with the Spitzer “hooker, hooker, hooker, hooker, hooker” orgy. Spears is a real soft target, and lets them keep the run alive.

  2. March 15, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    I believe then when/if she tries to kill herself we, the celebrity-obsessed public, are to blame as much as the media who are making millions off of her mental illness. Only if she is successful at a suicide attempt could she ever be redeemed in our fucked-up culture as the “lost soul/candle in the wind” Marilyn Monroe trope. Disgusting and shameful.

  3. March 15, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Wow, that’s a sucky headline. The LA Times print edition went with “Hospital to Punish Snooping on Spears”, which more clearly sums up the story. What’s outrageous is that the 20 or so employees that accessed her files (“at least 13 fired”, plus six doctors who will be disciplined, in the story I read) were apparently caught because they had to enter a PIN. On top of that, UCLA says they sent out a memo the morning Spears was admitted reminding the staff that they were only allowed to access files for patients they were taking care of. So the staff members who are in trouble knew what they were doing was against the rules, knew that they could be tracked and they did it anyway. I can’t imagine being in Spears’ place, with so many people willing to do anything to find out the details of your personal life.

  4. jennifer
    March 15, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Having seen the picture of Britney Spears sans panties, my opinion is that the paparazzi did not have their cameras “trained up her skirt.” The pictures were taken from a standing position as Ms. Spears either got into or out of her car. You want to talk about the disgustingness of having your every movement tracked by TMZ, cool – but the photographer did not take an upskirt photo. Whether Ms. Spears showed off her panty-lessness on purpose or by mistake, I neither know nor care.

    And as for the headline, a) sex sells and b) headline writers are frequently idiots.

  5. March 15, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    And as for the headline, a) sex sells and b) headline writers are frequently idiots.

    Well in that case, ladies, let’s not worry our pretty little heads about it!

  6. March 16, 2008 at 12:34 am

    The pictures were taken from a standing position as Ms. Spears either got into or out of her car

    I doubt that highly. If even a 5′ tall person was standing by a car, they would not get a crotch shot. The photogs would *have* to be down low, pretty well in the way of the door, and more or less focused on her lap.

    Now here’s a fucked up photo of a paparazzo.

    Sorry for the off topic, but it’s necessary to know how fucked up our celebrity shit is.

  7. jennifer
    March 16, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    <blockquote I doubt that highly. By all means, look at the photos yourself. She’s seated in a car. From ABOVE, the picture looks down on her as she swings a leg to get out of the car. Her skirt rides up far enough you can see her cesarean scar. You know, in any argument, facts are useful. Without them, knees jerk all over the place over nothing.

    Well in that case, ladies, let’s not worry our pretty little heads about it!

    Sigh. What I meant was: why read sexism into it when poor grammar suffices as an explanation?

  8. Bitter Scribe
    March 16, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Britney Spears is Exhibit A in The Museum of Why Sexualizing Children Is a Bad Idea.

  9. March 16, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    This is definitely NOT from a standing position. And neither is this one:

    These pictures were taken by someone very low on the ground – they’re much lower than the front seat head rest, as you can see.

    And Bitter Scribe – you hit the nail on the head.

  10. March 16, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Boo – my links were cut, but I simply found the shots by googling “Britney Spears Crotch” (something I didn’t think I’d ever be doing…) just to make sure my facts were right. Whoever took those pictures knew exactly what they were doing.

  11. Jay
    March 16, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Looking up records of patients you are not responsible for gets you automatic termination in every hospital I’ve ever worked in. The last time I heard about it was when a nurse looked up the records on her next-door neighbor – and yes, she had to enter a PIN. (Although we enter PINs so often and so automatically that most of us don’t remember we can be tracked by the number.)

    Headline sucked. They should be fired, and the docs should be reported to the state board.

  12. MM
    March 17, 2008 at 12:02 am

    Oh yeah. I worked at a hospital and they kept telling us during training that they routinely check the logs for celebrity patients. The reason they really tried to imprint that on our brains? Once a very famous celebrity came into a clinic. Rumor got around. Over a hundred people were fired for looking up that celebrity’s records. They couldn’t take another staff loss like that.

  13. March 17, 2008 at 3:29 am

    While the disciplined employees were unable to access her psychiatric records, they did look at non-psychiatric records from her previous visits to the medical center,

    Don’t they mean the undisciplined employees?

  14. March 17, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    I used to work at UCLA Medical Center and even though I was not in patient care, they beat it into your head about every six months that you could not look at the records of a patient you were not yourself treating or being consulted about, ever, no matter how famous they were.

    California nurses have a very strong union, so there may be proceedings that have to be done before any nurses who violated HIPAA can be fired.

  15. TempAnon
    March 17, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    I’m going to go anon for this one because I’m going to discuss hospitals and privacy and it’s an issue not un-related to household income.

    All patients have the right to expect their medical information is kept private. Not just from the public but from other medical personnel not involved in their care. And this right to privacy is drilled into hospital employees at all levels. There’s training on it. There’s meetings. There’s memos, prominently posted.

    When new technology is brought in, when new record keeping procedures are written, hell, when the hospital facilities are built or remodeled one aspect of the planning always addresses how to ensure patient privacy. HIPAA is not some obscure thing these hospital employees didn’t know about, because it’s an everyday part of their jobs.

    The patient’s right privacy is not surrendered by becoming famous, any more than it is lost if the patient has a really icky medical condition, a curious ex-boyfriend or the misfortune to be admitted on a slow night when Hospital Employee X has nothing better to do. And if Hospital Employee X doesn’t know that either their employer is profoundly major-law-suit-pending negligent or Hospital Employee X is willfully stupid.

  16. Danakitty
    March 17, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Jennifer — in most publications, the people who write the headlines are also the people who read over the text word for word checking for grammar and style. Copy editors are hardly idiots and are very meticulous (sometimes annoyingly so).

    And in my few years of working in newspapers, I’d have to say that sometimes we have had lapses in judgment and decided to publish the “funnier” head, rather than the proper one.

    Seriously, you spend all day writing serious articles about things you want to laugh at, and the best shot you have is in the headline. Give ’em a break! Let journalists have fun sometimes!!

  17. MC
    March 18, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Danakitty: Let journalists have fun somteimes?! What? There’s a difference between making a silly headline for a silly article, and THAT headline. It’s not silly or funny.

  18. MC
    March 18, 2008 at 11:33 am

    And, Jennifer: It’s not poor grammar. What a cop-out. Especially considering the headline was changed. It’s obvious it was changed to make it more exciting.

  19. March 18, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Is shaving your head a sign of mental illness? Could that not be a sign of being trapped within a claustrophobic identity?

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