Friday, January 6, 2017

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

Per Part I, on Monday I sent Cincinnati Enquirer news executive Peter Bhatia a list of what I considered seven reportorial errors in veteran Cincinnati reporter Cliff Radel's December 17, 2016 obituary of my father. I also asked him to provide me with the name of the supervising editor on the article.

Also in part I, on Tuesday I fact-checked what appeared to be these factual errors.

Radel claimed that the American Red Cross (ARC) did not use the term "Heimlich maneuver" in their first aid literature because my father demanded that they remove his name. In an e-mail in which I copied Bhatia, I asked the ARC if that was accurate.

Radel also reported that the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver received the Lasker Award. I e-mailed the Lasker Foundation and got a prompt, courteous reply from David Keegan, the organization's Awards Program Director who confirmed Radel got that wrong.

I promptly forwarded Keegan's reply to Bhatia and to Brent Jones, Standards and Ethics Editor at USA Today, which had same-day published a shorter version of Radel's article (which included the Lasker error).

That's when things got interesting.

Subject: Re: request for published corrections
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2017 19:29:29 +0000

Peter: We will run a correction on the Lasker awards. I would note it was correct that your father won the award. We already fixed the bad headline. Otherwise, we leave you to your blog.

Peter Bhatia
Editor and Vice President, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Ohio editor for the USA TODAY Network

Subject: Re: request for published corrections
Cc:,, Ben Kaufman/Cincinnati CityBeat


Thank you for the heads-up and for the fixes, although I didn't appreciate your snide remark. Why blame me for catching reportorial errors when a lightweight like Cliff was assigned to write an obituary for someone as newsworthy and important as my father? 

In any event, just to confirm re: my Monday inquiry to you.

Based on your recent e-mail, my understanding is that the Enquirer has no intention of correcting the Belle Jacobson error; no interest in addressing Fred Webster's contradiction of my father's dubious tale about the Chinese soldier; and no interest in including anything about my father falsely claiming credit for inventing the esophagus operation.

I also asked you for the name of Cliff's editor on the obit. Can you share that, please?

Finally, re: this from Cliff's article:

The Red Cross’ inclusion of the back slaps offended Heimlich. So, in 1976, he asked the organization to remove his name from their first-aid literature for choking. That’s why the term "abdominal thrusts" is used.
Per my Monday inquiry to you, that last sentence is contradicted by information from the American Red Cross. I have an inquiry to the ARC and will let you know the result.

Cheers, Peter

Subject: Re: request for published corrections
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2017 20:48:09 +0000

Not sure what was snide. If you took what I said that way there was no intent. In any case, yes, our correspondence is completed.

That tore it.

I don't care how many Pulitzers Bhatia has been associated with.

A journalist and reader's representative doesn't care whether or not his newspaper is providing readers with accurate information and also refuses to disclose the name of a supervising editor?

I should add that last summer a lengthy Enquirer article revisted a 15-year-old story hyping the use of the Heimlich maneuver for drowning rescue, a thoroughly-discredited treatment that has reportedly been associated with dozens of poor outcomes, including kids.

Whose idea was it to revisit this obscure story? I wanted to learn how it got into the paper, who was the supervising editor, and shouldn't the article be appended with a note informing readers that the treatment was unapproved and might injure or perhaps kill someone?

Bhatia and other Enquirer news staff refused to provide me with the name of the supervising editor or to append the article.

Back to Radel's article, you'll recall I copied Bhatia on my fact-checking inquiry to the ARC and clearly Bhatia didn't give a fig how they responded.

A few minutes after I got his "our correspondence is completed" e-mail, I received the ARC's reply on which Bhatia was copied.

I included it in the following e-mail.

Subject: complaint 
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2017 18:23:46 -0500

Joanne Lipman
Senior Vice President, Chief Content Officer
Gannett Inc.

Dear Ms. Lipman:

This is a complaint against Peter Bhattia of the Cincinnati Enquirer for professional misconduct. Would you please review the following and forward this e-mail to the responsible human resources managers at Gannett and the Enquirer? I would appreciate being copied on those e-mails.

1) In an e-mail two days ago (which I posted on my blog) I brought to Mr. Bhatia's attention a number of reportorial concerns in Cliff Radel's December 17, 2016 obituary of my father, including what appeared to be a string of factual errors.

Per the e-mails below my signature, today I fact-checked and tagged one of those errors -- Mr. Radel incorrectly reported that the Wright Brother and George Washington Carver received the Lasker Award. After I shared that information with Mr. Bhatia -- an e-mail to me from an executive at the Lasker Foundation -- he agreed to publish a correction for that error. He also agreed to correct the headline on Mr. Radel's article which erroneously identified my father as a Cincinnati native. (Per my e-mail to Mr. Bhatia, the headline error was tagged and reported by former Enquirer reporter Ben Kaufman in his most recent Cincinnati CityBeat media watch column.)

However, for reasons that remain unclear, Mr. Bhatia refused to address the other apparent errors I brought to his attention.

Further -- and considerably more disconcerting -- in an e-mail this afternoon he terminated our correspondence despite the fact that in an e-mail a few minutes earlier, I informed him that I had a fact-checking inquiry in to the American Red Cross (ARC) regarding this questionable information in Mr. Radel's article:

The Red Cross’ inclusion of the back slaps offended (Dr.) Heimlich. So, in 1976, he asked the organization to remove his name from their first-aid literature for choking. That’s why the term “abdominal thrusts” is used.
To reiterate, Mr. Bhatia made it clear he did not care how the ARC might respond to my inquiry. In other words, he did not care whether the information in Radel's article was accurate or not.

Shortly after receiving Mr. Bhatia's e-mail terminating our correspondence, I received the following e-mail. Please note that Mr. Bhatia was copied by Mr. Lauritzen.

From: Don Lauritzen
Subject: FW: blogger inquiry
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2017 21:44:40 +0000

Mr. Peter M. Heimlich:

Please accept our condolences regarding the passing of your father.

Following are responses to your questions.

Throughout history, the American Red Cross has recommended different protocols for removing foreign body obstructions blocking airways based on the most up-to-date science available on First Aid, CPR and Emergency Cardiovascular Care. Our current recommendation is using cycles of 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts to treat conscious choking children and adults. For conscious choking infants, the Red Cross recommends using cycles of 5 back blows and 5 chest thrusts.

The American Red Cross uses the term ‘abdominal thrusts’ in our training materials because it describes the action that people are performing. The term represents the correct medical and generic term used in evidence reviews and guidelines documents. We do not have any record of Dr. Heimlich prohibiting us from using the term ‘Heimlich Maneuver’ and are not aware of the use of the term in any American Red Cross training materials including those developed before 1976.

Thank you.

Don Lauritzen
Communications Officer

American Red Cross
National Headquarters
431 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20006

Since Mr. Bhatia terminated his correspondence with me, this is to request that you contact a responsible editor at the Enquirer and arrange for a published correction to Mr. Radel's article based on Mr. Lauritzen's e-mail.

2) As you may recall from my correspondence with you last summer, in response to multiple polite requests, without explanation Mr. Bhatia refused to provide me with the name of the supervising editor for this August 18, 2016 Enquirer article, 15 years later: Lifeguard, swimmer recall close call by Brett Milam. 

Today Mr. Bhatia also refused to provide me with name of the editor responsible for Mr. Radel's obituary of my father.

This is to request that you contact a responsible editor at the Enquirer, obtain the names of the supervising editors on those two articles, and that you provide me with those names.

3) In order to determine if Mr. Radel's article requires further correcting, would you also please ask a responsible editor to review the other reportorial concerns about Mr. Radel's article which I brought to Mr. Bhatia's attention and which he refused to address?

4) Finally, this is to request that your office provide me with a determination if Mr. Bhatia's actions are in compliance with Gannett policy.

Thank you for your time/consideration and I look forward to your reply.


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


Michael Kilian, The Enquirer
Ben Kaufman, Cincinnati CityBeat

Yesterday Ms. Lipman e-mailed me that she'd turned the matter over to Brent Jones.

Here's the original and the revised headline on Radel's article:


The article is now appended with:

Even though Bhatia was informed by Don Lauritzen, at this writing the false information about the American Red Cross acceding to my father's demands is still in Radel's article.

At this writing, the USA Today version of the obit still includes this error:

Finally, I sincerely appreciated Don Lauritzen's kind condolence note and I promptly e-mailed him a warm thank-you.