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
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?
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 .
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.
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.
The Man Behind the Maneuver
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.