Sunday, September 23, 2012

Who's the "mystery friend" that rescued Nashville singing star Luke Bryan from choking? His people won't tell me and the editor of People Country -- the magazine that broke the story -- isn't interested


Choking rescues involving celebrities are a press agent's dream come true.

For example, last May at a Pittsburgh restaurant, Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier reportedly performed the Heimlich maneuver on a fellow diner who was choking, helping to remove a piece of steak caught in the man's throat.

Scores of glowing media reports resulted from the episode. My father even got into the act to present Frazier with a Heimlich Institute "Save-A-Life" award.


Which leads me to this quote from an unsigned interview in the current issue of People Country magazine. (Click here to view the the cover.)

The story was picked up by dozens of web sites such as DJ Ken Hayes of KKCB-FM (Duluth, MN) who blogged:
We’d hate to lose one of country music’s hottest artists! Luke is nominated for CMA’s Male Vocalist and Album of the year!
Needless to say, I'm delighted Mr. Bryan survived what sounds like a terrifying, life-threatening incident.

But how about some praise for the unnamed buddy who Heimlich-ed him?

Over the past week I've made best efforts to obtain the friend's name and other details from Byran's press agent and his personal managers. 


Here's what I wanted to find out, just some basic who/what/where/whens:
1) What was the date of the event? (Mr. Bryan said it happened, "last Monday.")
2) What's the name and location of the pizza restaurant?
3) What's the name of Mr. Bryan's friend who performed the Heimlich maneuver on him?
4) Based on his description ("I went down"), it appears that Mr. Bryan may have lost consciousness. Is that accurate?
5) Did Mr. Bryan subsequently seek medical care?
6) What's the name of the People Country reporter who interviewed Mr. Bryan?
I assumed they'd be eager to provide the information. The son of the doctor famous for the medical treatment that may have saved their client's life wants to write it up? Where's the downside?  

I assumed wrong.

Bryan's publicist Taryn Pray at EMI/Capitol Records declined to provide any information.

Taryn Pray (source)

And his personal managers, Kerri Edwards and Waylon Weatherholt of Red Light Management, failed to respond to multiple inquiries.


Since those turned out to be dead ends, I assumed People Country would be interested. They might even want to report an upbeat follow-up with an all-smiles photo of Bryan and his heroic friend showing how he performed the Heimlich maneuver on the singer.

I've really got to get over this habit of assuming. 

On September 19, I exchanged e-mails with editor Cynthia Sanz. I sent her copies of my correspondence with Bryan's people and asked:
1. The interview with Mr. Bryan didn't include a byline. What's the name of your reporter who obtained the quote?

2. What was the date of the interview?

3. Does People Country intend to fact-check the information? If so, would you please courtesy-copy me?
Here's her same-day reply that ignored all my questions:

Cynthia Sanz (source)

It's unclear why Ms. Sanz and the singer's representatives don't seem interested in giving Luke Bryan's rescuer friend the recognition he deserves, but perhaps others will.

This item was updated with the September 24, 2012 tweet to Mr. Bryan.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Somebody out there doesn't like me -- anonymous letter-writer alerts IL senator and Attorney General to my "hit list of victims"!

As I've reported in a string of items, since last year Illinois State Senator Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) has been asking tough questions about what happened to millions of tax dollars awarded to the Save-A-Life Foundation.

SALF was the scandal-ridden Chicago nonprofit that's reportedly under investigation by the Illinois Attorney General.

According to the author of an anonymous poison pen letter to the senator and copied to the AG, it's all a misunderstanding.

And it's all my fault.

As Sidebar readers know, SALF was a high-flying Chicago nonprofit that used to be the darling of Illinois media with connections up and down the Prairie State's political food chain -- Dick Durbin, Jan Schakowsky, Arne Duncan, John Shimkus, Emil Jones Jr., Paul Vallas, Gery Chico, and other worthies.

Here's Rita Mullins, former mayor of Palatine, IL, and Carol J. Spizzirri -- the gal pals who helmed the organization -- and my father at a Washington, DC conference that was supposed to move their organization into the big leagues:

Instead, a year later the SALF hit the fan when ABC7 aired the first of four scorching exposes. Since then, there have been dozens more print and broadcast reports, including a March interview I did with an Illinois paper.

Per a San Diego newsweekly article about her sordid history, Spizzirri hightailed it to a mobile home park near Carlsbad a couple years ago.

Sen. Bivins tagged Spizzirri and Mullins in this acerbic letter he sent to the IL Attorney General:

Turns out the senator's letter really got under somebody's skin.

Check out this anonymous screed he received that portrays me as slightly worse than Charlie Manson. (I've redacted a paragraph consisting of crapulous allegations about a third party.)

For fun, I'll try and fact-check the claims in the letter. It shouldn't require much effort.

For example:
To enlighten you, the students of Dixon schools were taught/saved lives with SALF's life saving curriculum instructed by off-duty Dixon City Fire Department EMS professionals, which operated through a Branch at St. John's Hospital, Springfield.
Sen. Bivins -- misspelled "Bevins" by the cluck who wrote the letter -- lives in Dixon and was Lee County Sheriff for 20 years. Here's what he wrote me:
I did talk to one of the longest serving fireman in my town and he doesn't recall any such program (SALF) ever being offered here.
As for my motives, I'll leave it to others to decide whether this page of media reports that resulted from my whistleblowing efforts constitutes a "hit list" -- and what may have compelled me to take a closer look at Spizzirri's organization.

Carol Spizzirri and my father (then 85 years old) at SALF's US Conference of Mayors presentation, January 19, 2005

One last question.

Why is the skank who wrote the anonymous letter to Sen. Bivins giving me grief about my father? Per this ABC7 report, it was Spizzirri and her organization that kicked him to the curb: