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October 1, 2009

Minnesota Paper Puts Burglary Suspect’s HIV Status, Name, Photo on Front Page

On September 25, Minnesota newspaper the Pioneer Press published the mug shot and HIV-positive status of an 18-year-old burglary suspect, City Pages reports. The information was splashed across the front page, as the paper’s top story.

The headline read, “HIV—one more on-the-job risk cops face daily,” suggesting that HIV exposure is a common risk in law enforcement. According to the article, the suspect was charged with home burglary, aggravated robbery and resisting arrest. During apprehension, the suspect was bitten by a police dog and bled. The story later concedes that no workers have contracted HIV while on the job since the state health department began collecting that information in 1982.

“I don’t assume having HIV is a mark of shame, any more than having cancer or any other illness,” said Pioneer Press editor Thomas Fladung when City Pages questioned him about the story. “The second thing is, newspapers name names. So I approach it from that perspective. We name crime suspects all the time. Why shouldn’t we name this one?”

However, critics view publishing the man’s HIV status, name and photo as a violation of medical privacy. “The fact that this particular burglar is HIV positive is not as crucial to the story so much as the fact that they arrested a burglar, he was bit by a dog, and bled all over the cops,” said ethics group leader Kelly McBride from the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism school. “It’s not the name that was important in this case.”

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