Thursday, January 5, 2017

I filed a misconduct complaint against Cincinnati Enquirer editor Peter Bhatia -- here's why (Part I)

In e-mails he sent me yesterday, Cincinnati Enquirer editor Peter Bhatia made it clear  that -- and I am not exaggerating -- he did not care whether or not information in a published article was factually correct or accurately reported.

I've never filed a complaint against a journalist, but I thought his behavior merited it, so yesterday I filed a complaint of professional misconduct against Bhatia with Joanne Lipman, senior vice president and chief content officer of Gannett Inc., the Enquirer's parent company.

Here's what happened.

According to a 2015 Enquirer item, "(Bhatia helped) lead newsrooms that won nine Pulitzer Prizes, including (six at the Portland Oregonian). He also is a six-time Pulitzer juror."

Based on that impressive resume, I wanted to solicit and blog his expert opinion about what appeared to be a number of reportorial problems and factual errors in reporter Cliff Radel's obituary of my father in the December 17, 2016 Enquirer, Cincy native Dr. Henry Heimlich dies at 96.

So on Monday I e-mailed Bhatia a thoroughly-doumented inquiry listing seven of my concerns. I also asked him to provide me with the name of the supervising editor on the story.

For example, in his December 22 Cincinnati CityBeat media watch column, former Enquirer reporter Ben Kaufman tagged the headline as inaccurate. My father was born in Wilmington, DE.

But that was a minor glitch compared to other problems I shared with Bhatia, including the bizarre claim that Belle Jacobson MD, my father's business partner in a short-lived New Rochelle, NY, clinic called the Heimlich Medical Group, was my father's personal physician when he was a child.

Radel's article also included:
After graduating from Cornell Medical College in 1943, Heimlich enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Before he could be assigned to a ship, he volunteered to go to China on a mission...

He treated Chinese civilians and soldiers. “One night as the war was coming to an end in 1945, a Chinese soldier was brought to me with a chest wound,” Heimlich said. “I operated on him. But he died in my hands.

“The next day, I was feeling terrible.” Hoping to lift his spirits, he went for a ride on one of the horses assigned to the 12 American GIs. As he rode toward a nearby town, the Navy surgeon crossed paths with an oxcart.

“The cart was carrying the remains of that Chinese soldier,” Heimlich said. His voice quaked with emotion 68 years after the first seeing that cart.

“I never forgot that sight,” he said. “And, I never forgot how he died in my hands.” He wondered if he could have done more. He worried that if he had known more about draining chest wounds, the man might have lived."
As I informed Bhatia, that tale was disputed in an article (for which I was a source), Henry Heimlich: Polarizing Doctor by veteran Cincinnati reporter Lucy May, WCPO Insider Monthly, March 2014:
Heimlich has spoken publicly many times about how a Chinese soldier dying in his arms inspired his invention of the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve years later. He told WCPO he trained Chinese soldiers to form their first-ever medical corps for the guerilla army, an account repeated in his book.

Frederick Webster said he served as assistant to “Doc Heimlich” at Camp 4. Webster said he doesn’t recall the dying soldier or any medical corps training, although he said there were a few weeks where the men’s service there did not overlap.

“You really can’t believe any of the stories the veterans tell you,” said Webster, who is 93 and lives in (Orleans) Vermont. “The Chinese soldiers never seriously needed help.”

Webster told WCPO detailed stories of how Heimlich treated the Chinese and life at the camp.

Heimlich said he doesn’t remember Webster and questioned whether the two men actually served together.

“He doesn’t mean anything to me at all,” Heimlich said.
I didn't expect Radel to have been aware of the information in May's report, but since my father's story had been contradicted two years ago in a mainstream Queen City news source, I was curious to know if Bhatia thought the obituary should be updated to include Webster's version of events.

Radel's article also failed to report that in a March 16, 2003 Sunday Enquirer front page expose (based on research by my wife and me and our outreach to reporter Robert Anglen), Dr. Dan Gavriliu of Bucharest called my father "a liar and a thief" because, for decades my father falsely claimed credit for a surgical procedure Gavriliu invented.

As I informed Bhatia, the Washington Post's obituary for my father included paragraphs about that and credited/linked to the Enquirer expose.

Therefore, it seemed conspicuous that the newspaper that broke the story should fail to mention it in my father's obit.

While waiting for Bhatia's reply, I did some fact-checking of my own.

Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 09:52:31 -0500
Subject: blogger inquiry

American Red Cross
Media Relations Dept.

To whom it may concern:

I'd appreciate your help with a clarification, please. If you can get back to me by tomorrow (Wednesday), that would be great. If you need more time, please advise and I'll do my best to accommodate.

Via Cincy native Dr. Henry Heimlich dies at 96 by Cliff Radel, Cincinnati Enquirer, December 17, 2016:

Current (American) Red Cross first-aid protocol for someone who's choking calls for five back slaps first. Then, if needed, follow with five of the maneuver's abdominal thrusts. The Red Cross's  inclusion of the back slaps offended Heimlich. So, in 1976, (Dr. Heimlich) asked the (American Red Cross) to remove his name from their first-aid literature for choking.That's why the term "abdominal thrusts" is used.
According to ARC materials and media reports I've seen, your organization's decision to use the term abdominal thrusts had nothing to do with any demands made by my father.

1) Per my blog yesterday, I brought the matter to the attention of Enquirer editor/VP Peter Bhatia.

2) My wife and I have been invited to write an article about the history of my father's namesake maneuver and we may wish to include this issue.

In order to resolve the matter, would you please provide me with a straightforward, unambiguous statement explaining why the ARC uses the term abdominal thrusts and whether or not input from my father had anything to do with that decision?

Thanks much for your time/consideration and I look forward to your reply.

Cheers, Peter

Peter M. Heimlich
ph: (208)474-7283

Tomorrow in I'll publish the ARC's response, but I won't keep you in suspense.

Radel got it all wrong, probably because, rather than asking the Red Cross, he took dictation from my nonagenarian father who -- and I've credited him for this -- has been punking Enquirer reporters for four decades, most recently last May.

Back to the obit, a version of which was same-day published in USA Today:

Yesterday I e-mailed the Lasker Foundation and asked if/when the Wilbur, Orville, and George Washington Carver received the award.

I received this prompt reply which I forwarded to Bhatia and USA Today's Standards & Ethics Editor, Brent Jones:

Dear Peter,

Neither the Wright Brothers nor George Washington Carver were ever recognized with Lasker Awards.

The Lasker Awards program dates to 1945. The first Basic and Clinical Lasker Awards were given in 1946.

A complete list of Lasker awardees can be found on our website: (and you can search any name using the “search” tool in the top navigation).

Hope that helps.

Best wishes,


David Keegan

Awards Program Director
Lasker Foundation
405 Lexington Avenue, 32nd Floor
New York, NY 10174

And then things got interesting...

Don't miss Part II tomorrow in The Sidebar...

This item has been slightly revised for clarity.