Monday, March 20, 2017

MedPage Today ran an article in which credentialed professionals attacked the work of a prominent researcher who wasn't provided the opportunity to respond -- I asked three journalism ethics experts for their opinions

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When I report a story, I make best efforts to provide all players the opportunity to comment.

That's what bugged me about Fat Wars: Diet Docs Have Salim Yusuf in the Cross Hairs, a March 2, 2017 MedPage Today article by reporter/editor Crystal Phend

Here's the lede:
A public attack on diet dogma from fats to vegetable intake got leading cardiologist Salim Yusuf, MD, DPhil, into scalding water with nutrition experts.
The piece consisted of these five credentialed professionals going on the warpath about a recent lecture by Dr. Yusuf: Joel Kahn MD, David Katz MD MPH, Marion Nestle PhD MPH, Yoni Freedhof MD, and Kim Williams MD.

Missing was any response from Dr. Yusuf, who has been called the "leading North American clinical trialist" in the field of prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, and the article provided no indication that Ms. Phend had attempted to interview him.

If I'm reporting about someone prominent, I try to include their quotes not only for fairness, but because -- duh -- having comments from big dogs improves the news value of my story.  

When I asked Ms. Phend, she wrote me that she chose not to interview Dr. Yusuf because:
This was a follow-up to our main story on Yusuf’s talk (http://www.medpagetoday.com/cardiology/cardiobrief/63427 ), focusing on a different aspect -- the response of various diet proponents to Yusuf’s comments. I thus did not interview Yusuf for the story.

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I then asked MedPage Editor-In-Chief Peggy Peck if she thought Dr. Yusuf should have been given the opportunity to respond to his critics.

Culled from our back/forth e-mails, here's her response:
The article written by Crystal Phend was a follow-up article to one written by Larry Husten for MedPage Today and the blog, CardioBrief.

...Larry Husten alerted us to the presentation by Salim Yusuf. Given Yusuf’s standing in the field, I agreed that it could be a good piece for us (and for Larry’s blog). Based on that exchange, Larry did contact Salim and others and he wrote his piece.

After we published that piece, we were contacted by a number of sources* who disagreed with Salim. We reviewed those comments and decided to put together a folo piece, which is exactly what Crystal did. We sent links to her story and Larry’s story to all who were quoted.

...Crystal did a response piece and that piece does meet the requirements for response pieces and, in fact, sometimes these pieces can go back and forth in a series of articles.
In the course of our correspondence, Ms. Peck got a little peevish and apparently couldn't understand the point of what I was reporting, so I explained:
If you were the subject of an article that attacked your work, IMO the reporter would have an obligation to provide you with the opportunity to respond within the article. (You would have right to accept or decline that opportunity, of course, or the article might state that you failed to respond to multiple inquiries.) Ms. Phend's failure to attempt to provide that opportunity to Dr. Yusuf is what I'm reporting about.
I didn't receive a reply so I can't share her reaction to that.

Next I ran the situation past some journalism ethics experts. Here are their unedited responses in the order in which I received them.


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Gene Foreman, veteran newspaper editor and author of The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Pursuit of News, revised in 2015 for our digital age:
MedPage should have allowed Dr. Yusuf an opportunity to rebut his critics in the same article in which he is criticized. That seems only fair. What does MedPage have to lose by checking with him to see if he answers the specific criticisms? If he merely repeats the statements that were quoted in Husten's piece, MedPage could summarize them in a paragraph or two, demonstrating fairness but without rehashing the original piece. But if he offers replies to specific criticisms that introduce new information or a new, reasonable argument, MedPage readers would benefit from seeing the controversy addressed by both sides in a single article. 

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Via Kelly McBride, Poynter veep/professor and lead editor of The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century:
In general, this is a tough challenge. Yes, it's problematic to criticize someone and not offer them a chance to respond. But there are lots of occasions where that practice OK. In fact, there's a pretty big range of acceptable practices in the journalism world. And there is no set of rules that journalists are expected to follow or risk losing their credentials. Instead, each publication is in change of creating their own standards. 

There are other relevant factors here: How much traction was the video and the original talk getting? Among what audience? How big of a platform does the object of the critique have? What is the journalistic purpose of the critique? Should the original speaker be considered a public figure? Is this really part of an ongoing public dialogue?

If the talk was public and the video of the talk was openly available, I'm not deeply concerned that the original speaker was contacted, as long as his statements were not distorted and as long as the critics' statements were also not distorted.

So my short answer is: It's complicated.

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Fred Brown, veteran newsman, current vice chair of the Society for Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee, and editor of Journalism Ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media:
It's a mistake to assume that everyone is going to read every individual piece in continuing coverage of a subject. That's why it's important to include all relevant points of view in every story. Not every mention of every facet needs to be extensive, but a fair and responsible writer should at least mention differing opinions. In every story, every time; not in separate stories.
* I'm interested in how stories get reported, so I twice-asked Ms. Peck if she'd tell me the names of the names of the sources who triggered the story if that information was on the record. She twice-ignored my question.
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Here's sort of an epilogue via a March 14 MedPage Today follow-up by Ms. Phend, Fat Wars: An Apology and Clarification Over Diet Snafu:
From the "oops" department, cardiologist Salim Yusuf, MD, DPhil, apologized for maligning the Seven Countries diet study in the controversial diet talk he gave at the Zurich Heart House, which in turn explained it should never have publicly released the video.

However, neither walked back the substance of the talk at the Zurich Heart House's Cardiology Update 2017 symposium. Yusuf's discussion generated backlash from the nutrition community, with many finding fault with his conclusions on dietary fat, carbohydrates, meat, and the general state of diet science.

...Plant-based diet proponent Joel Kahn, MD, who...had labeled some of the comments regarding the Seven Countries study "slander" and called for an apology, said the letter was a step in the right direction. Still, Kahn wasn't fully satisfied.

"It is insanity that the Zurich Heart House [ZHH] still uses a link to explain the mess via Zoe Harcombe, PhD, who maintains in the link that Dr. Keys fudged data or other words similar," he said in an email to MedPage Today. "How can an academic institution like ZHH use a blogger [Dr. Harcombe] and not someone like Henry Blackburn, MD, of the University of Minnesota, still an active researcher for the Seven Countries Study at age 92? ZHH's effort was anemic."
Ms. Phend's article includes no indication that she attempted to contact a representative of Zurich Heart House, Dr. Yusuf, Dr. Harcombe, or Dr. Blackburn.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hard Truths or Half Truths? In his podcast, my brother credits our father as the lifesaving hero in a dramatic 1941 train wreck in CT, but...


A few months ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer's Politics Extra column ran an item by reporter Jason Williams about the latest media venture by my older brother Phil, Heimlich maneuvers to 'radical middle':
Heimlich, 64, has never come back to politics since that bruising and brutally expensive 2006 loss to Democrat David Pepper in the commissioner's race. Heimlich has no plans to come back, but the Republican still loves to talk politics. Last fall, he resurrected his "Hard Truths" podcast on iTunes and philheimlich.com. It's where you can get your fill of Phil.

...Politics Extra isn't sure anyone's listening yet, but Heimlich is hoping to gain a national following.
Please lend an ear to the following audio clip from Phil's February 28 podcast.
 


Based on articles in the New York Times and New York Daily News, both dated August 29, 1941, Phil (and his engineer/announcer Rob Reider) give big ups to our dad for having saved the life of a man in a dramatic high-profile train wreck the previous day.

At age 21, after spending the summer working as a counselor at a summer camp in Lenox, Massachusetts, he and hundreds of campers were heading home when the train derailed in South Kent, Connecticut. Cars overturned into the adjacent Hatch Pond, leaving two train workers dead and one pinned down in four feet of water, his leg trapped under a car. Dad told the reporters he held the man's head above the water until help arrived. (To the best of my knowledge, he was interviewed at the train terminal in New York City, presumably Grand Central.)

Phil also mentions this September 25, 1941 item in the Times. (Note the lab coat. Nice touch by our pa, media-savvy even then.)


What makes this interesting --  and a little spooky -- is that the same day the podcast aired, the newsletter of Connecticut's Kent Historical Society (KHS) published Who Saved Otto Klug? Investigating a 75-year-old mystery, my article about the train wreck.

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Via my article:
My dad was no slouch when it came to singing his own praises to anyone in earshot and I was no exception. Most of our time together consisted of him telling me about his achievements and awards, especially after he became famous.

And that was my first problem with the train wreck story – over the decades he never mentioned it to me. I only learned about it in the early months of our research when (my wife Karen Shulman) and I happened upon the 1941 New York Times articles.

My interest was piqued, so about 14 years ago, I decided to take a closer look.

Via public libraries in Connecticut, I obtained copies of every article I could find about the headline-making disaster. I also contacted Marge Smith at the Kent Historical Society who sent me some paperwork from their files and put me in touch with Emily Krizan, whose husband, Joseph Krizan Jr., reportedly participated in rescue efforts at the train wreck, including helping the trapped fireman, whose name was Otto Klug.

Interestingly, none of the articles and none of the people with whom I communicated said anything about any camp counselor (or my father by name) being involved in the rescue.

Instead, they near-unanimously identified a local resident named Jack Bartovic as the person responsible for holding Klug’s head above water for hours.
Presumably Phil was unaware of these facts so last week I e-mailed him my article and these questions:

1) I'd be curious to know your thoughts about the contradictory claims I reported and in the articles posted on this web page I made: http://medfraud.info/OttoKlug.html Please feel free to elaborate.

2) Per my article, Henry never told Karen or me about the train wreck and no one else in the family (including you) ever mentioned it. We only learned about it in the early months of our research into Henry's career when we happened upon the two 1941 New York Times articles. Approximately when did you first become aware of the train wreck story and how did you hear about it?

3) In your podcast you read from the August 29, 1941 New York Daily News article about the wreck. I'd seen that article pasted-up in Henry's 2014 memoir [see below] but the text is too small to read. I haven't yet been able to obtain a copy of the article, so I was pleased to learn you've got one. Would you please send me a copy so I can check it out and add it to my web page?

I got a confirmation of receipt but no further communications.

I was especially interested in his answer to my second question.

That is, when did Phil first become aware of  the train wreck story? Did dad keep him in the dark, too?

Here's a video clip of Phil relating the train wreck story while introducing dad at a January 27, 2015 event hosted by the Cincinnati Business Courier. (He was receiving the newspaper's Health Care Hero award, an honor reportedly arranged by his longtime attorney, Joe Dehner).



The way Phil tells it, it sounds like the first time he heard about the train wreck may have been eight months earlier when he came across the New York Times in the course of helping our parents move.

So I e-mailed the video clip from the awards event to Phil and asked if that was accurate.

Again I received his confirmation of receipt, but no further communications.

Per Karen's letter to the editor in the April 2006 Cincinnati Magazine: "That's Phil -- a profile in courage."

Apparently I'm on my brother's do-not-respond list, so if anyone asks Mr. Hard Truths about this, I'm curious to know how he responds. Click here for my contact info.

Via my father's 2014 memoir, Heimlich's Maneuvers.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My inquiry today re: my two quid donation to a JustGiving crowdfunding campaign to purchase anti-choking devices for UK schools


Recently I donated £2 to a crowdfunding solicitation by the Hull Wyke Round Table (HWRT), a UK organization in East Yorkshire.

According to its website, the HWRT "is all about having fun with a group of friends while at the same time trying to help the local community."

According to a February 10, 2017 article in the Hull Daily Mail, HWRT representative Edd Wheldon spearheaded the campaign which eventually "raised £2,218 to install (the LifeVac anti-choking device) into as many schools in the Hull & East Riding area as possible."

In the course of researching my father's unusual career, as a side interest I've done some casual research re: various anti-choking devices that have been marketed in recent decades and I've reported about a few, for example, the Heimlich Helper, the Dechoker, and the LifeVac.

Via the HWRT's solicitation to donors:



For a Sidebar item I was reporting, I e-mailed Mr. Wheldon and asked him for a list of the 100 schools and for details about the three reported lives saved by the LifeVac. For example, the dates of the rescues, the locations, the names of the rescuers and the choking victims, etc.

I didn't receive a reply, so today I asked JustGiving, the London-based crowdfunding platform which hosted the fundraiser, to jump in. Click here to download a copy.

I'll report the results in a future item.