Monday, September 29, 2014

Why I'm not participating in Jason Schmidt's dubious documentary project about my father [Part II]: The project was funded by my father's press agent, who says she's personal friends with Schmidt

Longtime Heimlich Institute publicist Melinda Zemper wrote me that she's personal friends with Jason Schmidt, who's making a documentary about my father -- she helped fund Schmidt's project and sent out a press release to help with his fundraising.
In my previous item, I explained my principal reason for refusing to be interviewed for The Maneuver: The Inside Story of Dr. Henry Heimlich. 

That's the title of a documentary about my father that freelance video editor Jason Schmidt is trying to get off the ground via Media Schmedia LLC, his New York City-based company.

When Schmidt first approached me in April, I bailed pronto after he e-mailed me that he had no problem accepting funding from my father or his "sympathetic associates." He even invited me to steer donors to him:
I imagine you're dancing around the question of whether or not this project is funded by your father or sympathetic associates? If that's the case, you can be assured that no such money has been offered or accepted. Perhaps that will change...and likewise, if you know of any deep-pocketed patrons/benefactors interested in supporting a great project, I'm all ears.
Clearly he's not bothered with pesky concerns like maintaining the appearance of objectivity. 

The part he wrote about "no such money has been offered or accepted. Perhaps that will change"?

In fact, that changed just a few months later, via the project's Kickstarter campaign, which raised about $32,000.

Via Kickstarter, here's one of the backers:

As Sidebar readers know, Melinda Zemper is longtime press agent for my father's nonprofit Heimlich Institute.

Here's a screen shot from Documentary film on Dr. Henry Heimlich in works, Zemper's June 4, 2014 press release hyping the project:

In other words, the Heimlich Institute's press agent funded Schmidt's project via Kickstarter and issued a press release hyping the project in which she steered potential donors to the project.

On June 28, I sent Zemper these questions:
1) I presume you sent out the press release on behalf of your clients, the Heimlich Institute and Deaconess Associations, and that Media Schmedia is not your client, correct?

2) How much money did you contribute via Kickstarter?

3) Do you have any other financial interest in the film?

4) Is your funding of the film your own money or are you being reimbursed by your clients?
Here's her complete reply, dated June 30.
Hello Mr. Heimlich,

You are making wrong assumptions in your email below.

1) I submitted a press release supporting MediaSchmedia [sic] based on a personal friendship I have with Jason Schmidt, not on behalf of any client.

2) How much money I contribute to a Kickstarter campaign is none of your business and not of interest to media you copied on this email. It was a personal donation that is rather small in comparison to his actual needs, but the donation was intended to encourage Schmidt’s first foray into creating independent films. Jason Schmidt is an ethical, competent journalist who has won a variety of awards for his film work. Please view his website:

3) No, I do not.

4) The donation is personal; there are no clients involved in my donation to Schmidt’s documentary film on Dr. Heimlich. The film is an independent journalistic endeavor and not underwritten by the Heimlichs. That is why Schmidt implemented a Kickstarter campaign. Oak Tree Communications helped Dr. Heimlich obtain media coverage for his memoir. That project has since been completed and I am not working with Dr. Heimlich at this time.

Melinda Zemper
Oak Tree Communications
Some things I'd like to know.

Does "an ethical, competent journalist" making an ostensibly objective documentary about Henry Heimlich accept funding from Henry Heimlich's publicist?

Does "an ethical, competent journalist" allow Henry Heimlich's publicist to issue a press release hyping the film and encouraging donations?

Wouldn't "an ethical, competent journalist" be aware that these conflicts make him appear to be compromised?

And exactly how did Schmidt and Zemper get to be pals? 

Here's another of my father's "sympathetic associates" from whom Schmidt accepted funding via Kickstarter:

My sister Janet has been one of my father's most ardent defenders in the media, she edited his recently-published memoir, and she appears in this fund raising trailer for Schmidt's documentary. 

Part III: A Problematic "Heimlich Artwork" Kickstarter Premium and My Father's Relationships with Narco Docs

Part IV: Other problems with the film's Kickstarter fund raising campaign

Part V: Jason Schmidt refuses to answer my questions about false and/or problematic claims in his project's Kickstarter funding campaign