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SRSLY: Fool Me Twice, Shame on You; Fool Me Three Times, I’m a Medical Board

Your three-minute read on the best reporting you probably missed.


The best reporting you probably missed

David Epstein

Welcome to SRSLY, an (experimental) newsletter highlighting under-exposed accountability journalism. We'll distill the important information from investigative reporting you probably missed, and deliver it to you in three-minutes-or-less worth of reading. Sign up to have it delivered to your inbox. (You can, of course, unsubscribe at the first whiff of a bad joke.)

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Every investigative reporter knows that hunting for stories is kind of like dating before Tinder/OkCupid: Sometimes the best find comes when you weren’t exactly looking for it/swiping right. That seems to be what happened to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Danny Robbins while working on a story about health care in prisons. Robbins discovered orders from Georgia’s medical board that allowed doctors to return to practice after they had sexually violated patients. The Journal-Constitution then put to work a small army of old-school reporters, data journalists, and legal researchers to find out if this happens in other states. I bet you can guess the answer from the fact that ProPublica – your trusted source for all the depressing news that’s fit to tweet – is writing about it. Le sigh. Your four W’s:


The Journal-Constitution analyzed public records from every single state. The low-bar-good-news is that “the vast majority of the nation’s 900,000 licensed physicians don’t sexually abuse patients.” Hurrah. The bad news is that the AJC couldn’t determine the extent of the problem due to reporting practices that give as much information as a teenager asked about his day at school. Except minus “fine.”

What else?

Some cases were truly egregious, particularly when “hospitals … fail to report sexual misconduct to regulators, despite laws in most states requiring them to do so.” For example: the AJC reported that one doctor was fired by three Tennessee hospitals (twice for sexual misconduct), but incurred no medical board actions. But who’s counting?!? (Nobody, which is kind of the problem.) He then moved to Alabama, where he was arrested for raping a patient, and surrendered his license. In 2010, the doctor confessed to having sex with a teen patient, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for possessing child pornography.

What happens to the doctors?

In some states, the AJC reported, doctors who sexually violate patients can avoid public censure by going to private recovery programs. Even when doctors actually are sanctioned, finding out why is … well, again, think teenager describing day at school: “Medical regulators in almost every state … said they could not provide data listing reasons that doctors were sanctioned.” Thanks for asking. The AJC said Minnesota simply ignored public information requests. Perhaps officials there were just practicing “Minnesota Nice,” which, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, apparently includes not talking to people. Wow, that does sound nice.

What next?

The AJC created a state search so you can learn how to research your own doc. You can also peruse the lowlights from each state, like the New York doctor who surrendered his license in 2014 after prosecutors cited in evidence against him a “‘how to’ guide he wrote on molesting children.”

They Said It

“Medical authorities have relied on physicians to self-report sexual misconduct with patients. They don’t.” — the AJC report

(h/t @matthewshaer)

SRSLY Shortstack

Last week, we asked for help searching for interesting tidbits in the 2.6-million-word report on the UK’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq. And we got a doozy. (Thanks to our own @thejefflarson.) One intel source used by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service passed information about chemical weapons kept in round glass containers. Thing is, chemical weapons aren’t normally stored in glass containers – no surprise, since shatterproof tupperware is so cheap on Amazon – and the source was probably just passing on secrets from the highly classified 1996 Sean Connery/Nicolas Cage action flick The Rock. In that awesomely soundtracked film, sarin nerve gas (“… one of those things we wish we could disinvent,” as Cage’s Stanley Goodspeed put it) is kept in inexplicably delicate glass beads that are always being dropped and rolling around. So annoying! On the bright side, while the SIS included the info in a report, it also flexed its knowledge of Sir Sean’s corpus. According to the report, the SIS “drew attention to the fact that the source’s description of the device … was ‘remarkably similar to the fictional chemical weapon portrayed in the film The Rock’.” Note to self: always ctrl+f “Connery” before going to war. Coming up next week, Brits base their fishing habits on Finding Dory … hahaha, just kidding … oh. Uh-oh.

Tweet Of The Week

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median annual salary for a working journalist is $36,360. (Journalists have attended college, though, at much higher rates than the overall population.) Senators, on the other hand, definitely a spitting image of the everyman/woman.

Additional research by Kate Brown.

Tips are appreciated. The paper kind, or the green paper kind.

ProPublica does not vouch for the accuracy of stories appearing on SRSLY. We select, review and summarize key points from accountability stories that may not have gotten wide exposure. But we are not able to independently vet or vouch for the accuracy of stories produced by others. We will inform readers if we learn that stories have been challenged publicly or corrected.

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