Times Columnist Frank Bruni Violates Patient Privacy, Then Gets Nasty With Newt

New York Times reporter turned columnist Frank Bruni is on a nasty streak. He devoted his long Sunday Review column, "Rethinking His Religion," to a former classmate with a pat liberal morality lesson that seemed a lot like an invasion of patient privacy, then attacked Newt Gingrich and insulted Gingrich's wife.

James Taranto at Best of the Web explained:

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni has some insufferable friends. Yesterday he spent nearly 1,500 words profiling one of them, a classmate at the University of North Carolina whom he knew at the time as a conservative frat boy who "attended Catholic services every Sunday in a jacket and tie." Bruni, who is gay, "kept a certain distance from him" under the assumption that the young man, whom he does not name in the column, would be hostile to the future Timesman because of his sexual orientation.

"About two years ago, out of nowhere, he found me," Bruni reports. A correspondence ensued in which Bruni apologized "for misjudging him." The man was not as one-dimensional as Bruni had imagined, and he had changed since his undergraduate days.

Bruni's classmate did a lot of reading after graduation, which led him to question his faith. He also became a physician, as he had planned, but his career took an unplanned turn: "As a doctor, he has spent a part of his time providing abortions." Bruni allows that "for some," this story "will be proof positive of Rick Santorum's assertion last month that college is too often godless and corrupting." For "others," evidently including Bruni, it is "a resounding affirmation of education's purpose."

Bruni recounted a suspiciously on-the-nose morality lesson his doctor friend told him:

He shared a story about one of the loudest abortion foes he ever encountered, a woman who stood year in and year out on a ladder, so that her head would be above other protesters’ as she shouted “murderer” at him and other doctors and “whore” at every woman who walked into the clinic.

One day she was missing. “I thought, ‘I hope she’s O.K.,’ ” he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there. She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn’t like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.

She told him: “I don’t have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn’t where it should be.”

“Nothing like life,” he responded, “to teach you a little more.”

A week later, she was back on her ladder.

Taranto concluded:

It's just too perfect a liberal morality tale ("some" will consider it an immorality tale) not to raise red flags as a likely urban legend.

But what if it is true?

Physicians have a duty to keep medical information about their patients confidential. Some of them take this obligation very seriously: Our internist once told us that a friend of hers (who is also an acquaintance of ours) mentioned our name in conversation, and she did not tell him that she knew us lest she run afoul of the doctor-patient relationship.

To be sure, Bruni's friend did not identify his patient by name. But standing on a ladder outside an abortion clinic and shouting "murderer" and "whore" is, to say the least, unusual behavior. The number of women who have a history of doing so "year in and year out" cannot be much greater than one. Thus if this woman's friends, relatives or fellow protesters happen to read Bruni's column, it is very likely that they will make the connection and learn that she had an abortion.

We'd say the doctor is guilty of a gross violation of medical ethics--unless, of course, he was pulling Bruni's leg. As for Bruni, if he retold a false story believing it to be true, he hasn't violated journalistic ethics à la Stephen Glass, Jay Forman and Jayson Blair, who knowingly published fiction under the guise of fact, though he has displayed a flabbergasting gullibility.

But that is not the most unattractive thing this incident tells us about Bruni. Assuming that he recounted this story in good faith, he thought nothing of violating a troubled woman's privacy in order to score an ideological point.

An ideological point about the "right to privacy."

Ramesh Ponnuru wasn't impressed with Bruni either: "...what’s the point of the column? Near as I can tell, it’s that liberals should look past their prejudices against fellow college students who wear suits to Mass, because some of them turn out to be really thoughtful, as evidenced by their growing up to be abortionists."

Then on Tuesday, Bruni published a poison pen farewell to Newt Gingrich, lamenting both the former Speaker of the House's campaign and the irresponsible "beast" of the media for encouraging him and calling for the media to cut off coverage of Gingrich, and made a personal crack about the candidate's wife Callista.

It’s time to cut Newt out of our diets.

He has no nutritional value, certainly not at this point, as he peddles his ludicrous guarantee of $2.50-a-gallon gasoline, a promise that would be made only by someone with his own bottomless strategic reserve of crude. Doubly oily entendre intended.

There were calls for him to desist two weeks ago, after he lost Alabama, which abuts his home state of Georgia. But they fell on a deaf Newt.

There were fresh appeals last week, when he failed to wring even one measly delegate from Illinois on Tuesday and then Louisiana on Saturday. But Newt doesn’t need anything as prosaic as delegates, so long as there’s still pocket lint from Sheldon Adelson and the warmth of Callista’s frozen smile.


Great politicians are memorialized with holidays, monuments, libraries. For Newt I think an ice cream flavor is in order, something in the clogged vein of Chubby Hubby or Chunky Monkey, although not so physique-focused. Nutty Professor is too obvious a suggestion, though it opens the door to pralines, aptly Southern.