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My 10/28/13 investigation request to WNYC Radio re: Radiolab's "Heimlich story" junk reporting

My 10/28/13 investigation request to WNYC Radio re: Radiolab's "Heimlich story" junk reporting

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Published by Peter M. Heimlich
My 10/28/13 investigation request to WNYC Radio re: Radiolab's "Heimlich story" junk reporting
My 10/28/13 investigation request to WNYC Radio re: Radiolab's "Heimlich story" junk reporting

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Published by: Peter M. Heimlich on Oct 28, 2013
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12/02/2013

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October 28, 2013Dean CappelloChief Content Officer and Senior Vice President of Programming WNYC Radio160 Varick St.New York, NY 10013Mr. Cappello: According to National Public Radio's website, your station produces Radiolab, a program “heard on more than450 public radio stations across the country,” according toRadiolab's website.  Based on my experience, Radiolab's brand of journalism includes: failing to correct provably false information;reporting information known to be false; reporting fabricated information; cutting unethical deals to obtaininterviews; obtaining interviews and information under false pretenses; and censorship. Astoundingly, all that malfeasance occurred in the reporting of a single story,
, a25-minute documentary about my father, Henry J. Heimlich MD, known for “the Heimlich maneuver.”Based on the following information, this is to request that you initiate an investigation to determine if thereporting of 
The Man Behind the Maneuver
is in compliance with WNYC's standards and practices, the PublicMedia Code of Integrity ,and theNPR Ethics Handbook .
I. INTRODUCTION
In 2002 my wife and I began researching my father's career. Since Spring 2003, our work has resulted innumerous media reportsthat exposed him as a charlatan who for decades promoted unfounded medicaltreatments that put the public at risk and resulted in considerable harm, including the loss of life.
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 Further,articles in theBritish Medical Journal,theBoston Herald, Radar magazine, and other publications have questioned whether my father deserves credit for inventing “the Heimlich maneuver.”On August 29, 2012, I received an e-mail from a Radiolab producer named Pat Walters informing me that he'd“read the extensive materials on my website” and that he wanted to interview me for a story he was reportingabout my father's career. I'd never heard of Radiolab, but after listening to a handful of stories on the show's website, I politely declined. (I thought the program was long on style, short on substance.)I then received a pair of lengthy e-mails from Mr. Walters. Here's a sampling:
I can assure you that I take this work very seriously, that I respect what a privilege it is to be trusted withthese stories. In all these cases, we’re after the truth. And so, yes, we do talk about science and history,we teach, we explain. But what sets us apart, what gets us a little closer to the truth, I think, is the effortwe pour into trying to help our listeners understand something about the people behind that information.So, yes, I want to talk about the Heimlich maneuver, the history of where it came from, its rise to fame. Iwant to talk about the science behind it, whether it works better or worse than, say, slapping someoneon the back or compressing their chest — I’ve been in contact with several doctors about that questiontoday. And, of course, I want to talk about the controversy surrounding your father’s later work — theesophagus operation,
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using the maneuver for drowning, malariatherapy. Your website is tremendouslyinformative on these issues, and there are experts I can talk to....But the fact is, we know about all thosethings because you brought them to light...(It’s) impossible to talk about your father without talking aboutyou. The world learning about your father’s later work is your part of the story. Which is why I need totalk to you.1
Cincinnati's Heimlich Institute funded and supervised notorious experiments, in which US and foreign nationals sufferingfrom cancer, Lyme Disease, and AIDS were infected with malaria. The work beencondemned as a medical "atrocity”andhas resulted in investigations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Justice, the Foodand Drug Administration, and the University of California in Los Angeles. For recent information, 
 by Sam Levin, Riverfront Times, September 9,2013. Also see 
on my website.
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Most of my father's work in esophageal surgery long predates the introduction of the Heimlich maneuver in 1974.However, he continued to work as a surgeon until May 1977, when he was fired for misconduct at his last hospital job,Director of Surgery at Cincinnati's Jewish Hospital.
 
 As I’m sure you could tell from listening to the program, it is a documentary show, in which the guestsspeak as much — typically quite a lot more — than the producer/host. The stories we make belong asmuch to them as to us. I don’t want to talk about you. I want you to speak for yourself. There are manyreasons for this, but foremost, for me, is that you be represented accurately. And deeply. As thethoughtful, multi-faceted person you are. And without doing an interview, it’s impossible for me get to thekind of understanding, the kind of knowing, that requires....My overall focus isn’t why you “chose to drive the story into the media,” though as I’ve said, that is apiece of the plot, and I’d like to hear in your words. Nor is my focus why the “medical profession and themedia failed” to get the word out about your father’s activities post-maneuver. My focus is a short (butnot uncomplicated) question: Who is Henry Heimlich? Answering that obviously requires dealing withothers: Where did the Heimlich maneuver come from? Is it actually the best way to save a chokingvictim? What are we to make of Heimlich’s advocating that the maneuver be used for drowning (whichmedical experts seem roundly to agree is wrong and dangerous)? Of his work using malariatherapy totreat AIDS and cancer?...I’m casting a wide net right now. Reading tons — just printed out about 30 medical journal articles onthe science (most of it is “science”) behind choking treatments, and the debate about what the right thingto do is. Talking to lots of experts. Et cetera. All this is just to say, as I’ve explained, to tell this storyproperly, I need to do a taped, on-the-record interview with you.
Based on those assurances, on December 19, 2012 I did a two-hour phone interview with Mr. Walters. Further, based on his encouragements in phone calls and e-mails, I provided him with considerable information anddocuments in the months before and after the interview.On March 6, 2013, I received a brief e-mail from Mr. Walters informing me that his story (which he'd worked onfor over a year) was posted on Radiolab's website and thanking me for my contribution.Upon listening to 
,
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I was surprised to learn that the foundation of Mr. Walters'sstory was a choking incident from his childhood in which a school nurse performed the Heimlich maneuver onhim. During our six months of phone calls and e-mails, he never mentioned that to me. If he had, I might haveasked him and his editor this obvious question: Can someone who believes his life was saved by the Heimlichmaneuver report objectively about the treatment and its purported inventor?
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In any event, I had no concerns regarding the parts he included from my interview. I did, however, catch thesethree factual errors in the story and promptly submitted a request for published corrections: 1) Incorrectly-reported information about a woman's cause of death in a 1972 choking incident.2) Incorrectly-reported information about a train wreck that took place in South Kent, CT and was reported onthe front page of the August 29, 1941 New York Times .
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3) That prior to the introduction of the Heimlich maneuver in 1974, my father tied string to pieces of meat which were inserted into the throats of dogs.In response to my request, Mr. Walters informed me that Jad Abumrad, Radiolab's managing editor, agreed tocorrect the first two errors, but rejected the third.That refusal to correct a minor error began an unexpected series of events which, in my opinion, raise reasonableand serious doubts about Radiolab's editorial competence and integrity.
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It's a matter of opinion if Mr. Walters's report measures up to the extravagant assurances he made to me, but I'd suggestyou compare his work to Aviva Ziegler's
, a 30-minute audio documentary that aired four yearsearlier by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
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In hisMay 1, 2013 Cincinnati CityBeat media criticism column which addressed some of the reportorial problems with
The Man Behind the Maneuver 
,veteran reporter and journalism professor Ben Kaufmanconcluded, “Given the conflict of interest, letting choking survivor (Pat) Walters do the interview was a mistake.”
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 As I informed Mr. Walters when he was reporting his story, I have evidence that raises reasonable doubts about theversion of events he (and the New York Times) reported about the train wreck. That information has not yet beenpublished, so I didn't request a correction.
 
II. FAILING TO CORRECT PROVABLY FALSE INFORMATION
From 
, here's part of a page-size graphic that accompanied the story – pleasenote the dog with the string coming out of its mouth and the accompanying text:Click hereto listen to the relevant audio clip. Here's a transcription:
Pat Walters: So (Dr. Heimlich) gets a dog.Host: He got a dog?Henry J. Heimlich MD: Yes.PW: Where did you get it?HJH: Oh, we had a laboratory and it had some dogs there.PW: So this wasn't like Fido, the Heimlich family pet?HJH: No, no.PW: (He) laid the dog down on the operating table and then he jams this piece of meat...HJH: Probably beef....PW: ...down the dog's throat.Host: Did he at least sedate the dog before this?PW: Dog is anesthetized.
And he ties a piece of string around the beef, in case he needs to pull itout.
Not long after my father conducted the research, two prominent medical journals published key articles by my father that introduced “the Heimlich maneuver.” In both articles, he described the dog experiments in detail.From 
 by Henry J. Heimlich MD, Emergency Medicine, June 1974:
The procedure is adapted from experimental work with four 38-pound beagles, in which I was assistedby surgical research technician Michael H. McNeal. After being given an intravenous anesthetic, eachdog was "strangled" with a size 32 cuffed endotracheal tube inserted into the larynx. After the cuff wasdistended to create total obstruction of the trachea, the animal went into immediate respiratory distressas evidenced by spasmodic, paradoxical respiratory movements of the chest and diaphragm. At thispoint, with a sudden thrust, I pressed the palm of my hand deeply and firmly into the abdomen of theanimal a short distance below the rib cage, thereby pushing upward on the diaphragm. Theendotracheal tube popped out of the trachea and, after several labored respirations, the animal began tobreathe normally. This procedure was even more effective when the other hand maintained constantpressure on the lower abdomen directing almost all the pressure toward the diaphragm.We repeated the experiment more than 20 times on each animal with the same excellent results.
Whena bolus of raw hamburger was substituted for the endotracheal tube
, it, too, was ejected by thesame procedure, always after one or two compressions.

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