Vanity Fair magazine took another hit Friday in its bid for hospital records to help establish whether then-Navy Lt. John McCain was involved in a 1964 vehicle crash that may have severely injured or killed another person: A federal judge in the District of Columbia dismissed the magazine’s lawsuit over the records.
That lawsuit, brought jointly last month by the magazine and National Security News Service against the Navy after their initial request was denied, sought two days’ worth of "patient admission records" from Portsmouth Naval Hospital in southern Virginia in an attempt to prove McCain was treated there after a crash.
On behalf of both news organizations, reporter Christopher Law had been working for several months on a story about McCain’s time in the Navy, and heard about the alleged vehicle crash from "first-hand sources," according to the original complaint.
District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled that the Navy was right to deny the Freedom of Information Act request, since the hospital records fall into an exemption that guards against invasion of privacy.
"Whether disclosure of the requested patient admission records ‘would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy’ depends on the balancing of the private and public interests involved," Collyer wrote in Friday’s opinion. "The patients listed in the requested hospital admission records have a substantial privacy interest in avoiding disclosure of the fact that they sought medical treatment."
Collyer also noted that the news organizations offered no proof the public interest would outweigh the "listed patients’ substantial privacy interests in avoiding disclosure of the fact that they were hospitalized."