Saturday, November 27, 2021

A tale of two corrections requests: Part II, Kiwi columnist conceals cock-up! (12/10/21 UPDATE: The New Zealand Herald fixes the glitch - twice - and moves forward the story)

12/10/21 UPDATE: In a prompt, helpful reply to my November 27 request to the New Zealand Media Council (see below the hash marks), Executive Director Mary Major informed me that, before her organization could get involved, I needed to give the Herald a chance to resolve the problem.

Her guidance resulted in a productive and friendly exchange with David Rowe, the paper's senior newsroom editor. 

In the course of our correspondence I explained that I'd like to use opportunity to move forward the story about my dad's claims that in 2001 and 2016 he'd reportedly rescued choking victims using his namesake maneuver.

That resulted in the following paragraph being tagged onto Ana Samways's October 28 and November 9 Sideswipe columns. 

It's the first time I've expressed my opinion about the two cases in a mainstream news outlet. 

Sounds too good to be true?

Sideswipe recently reported that Henry Heimlich demonstrated his signature manoeuvre and only got to use it in an actual emergency when he was 96 when he saved a woman in his nursing home from choking on a burger. The story went viral in mid-2016, but his son Peter M. Heimlich believes it's false: "The 2016 story was packaged as a tie-in to the upcoming June 1 'National Heimlich Manoeuvre Day' by a public relations company representing the corporate parent of the Cincinnati, Ohio, nursing home where my father was living. The PR company handed the package (which mostly consisted of video interviews they had conducted) to the Cincinnati Enquirer. For obvious reasons, the story took off and turned up in scores of media outlets. Among other problems, per a video interview at the time, my dad was extremely frail and could barely get his arms around the woman he purportedly rescued." Peter adds that after the story went viral, he informed reporters that from 2001-2006 his father had told at least four reporters that he had saved the life of a choking victim at a Cincinnati, Ohio, restaurant in 2001. "My outreach resulted in numerous published corrections to the 2016 story. My opinion? Both 'rescues' were bogus."

What do a blogging rabbi in Boca Raton, FL, and New Zealand Herald columnist Ana Samways have in common?

In articles published in the same week, they made the identical factual error. 

When I sent them polite requests for published corrections, rather than simply correcting the record and informing readers that they'd goofed, they gave me material for this pair of blog items. 

The one you're reading is a complaint I filed yesterday against the Herald with the New Zealand Media Council, "(an industry self-regulatory body that provides) the public with an independent forum for resolving complaints involving the newspapers, magazines and the websites of such publications and other digital media."

I'll update with the Council's response.


Subject: complaint against NZ Herald, 26 November 2021
Date: Fri, Nov 26, 2021 at 4:12 PM
Cc: Charlotte Tobitt

Mary Major
Executive Director
NZ Media Council
79 Boulcott Street
Wellington, 6011 New Zealand

Dear Ms. Major:

This is me:

Today I attempted to submit the following complaint via your website, but when I made multiple attempts using your online form, I kept receiving this message and was unable to proceed:

The publication date of the problematic Herald article was 28 October 2021 and, per the Media Council's website, the complaint submission window is but one calendar month - two days from today - so I would greatly appreciate you accepting my complaint via this email.

Would you please review the attached pdf which consists of emails I recently exchanged with Herald columnist Ana Samways? It's in reverse chronology, so please start at the bottom and read up.

Briefly, per my first email to Ms. Samways - dated 29 October and clearly marked PRIVATE EMAIL; NOT FOR PUBLICATION - I explained that she'd made a factual error in this first item from her previous day's Sideswipe column:

1. Henry Heimlich demonstrated his signature manoeuvre thousands of times throughout his life but he never got the chance to use it in an actual emergency until he was 96 when he saved a woman in his nursing home from choking on a burger.

As I explained to Ms. Samways and provided thorough supporting documentation, from 2001-2006 my father had told at least four reporters that he'd saved the life of a choking victim at a Cincinnati, Ohio, restaurant in 2001.

In other words, this part of her item was wrong - (Dr. Heimlich) never got the chance to use (his namesake anti-choking manoeuvre) in an actual emergency until he was 96 (in 2016) - so I requested a published correction.

Instead of correcting her error, without my consent she published this in her 9 November 2021 column:

In two 14 November 2021 emails to Ms. Samways, I pointed out that the sentences she lifted from my first email did not correct her original error. I also pointed out that I hadn't given her permission to publish my email and asked if doing so was in compliance with her paper's editorial policy?

She then wrote me a rude email in which failed to address her factual error or to answer my question. In my final email, I asked Ms. Samways for her editor's name and email address. I never received a reply, hence this complaint.

But there's more.

When I subsequently revisited the URL of her 28 October column, I discovered her item about my father (with the factual error) had been replaced with this unrelated item without a note to readers explaining the substitution:

To summarize:

1) Instead of correcting a factual error, the Herald entirely replaced part of an article, presumably to "disappear" the error.

2) The Herald published sentences from an email clearly marked PRIVATE EMAIL; NOT FOR PUBLICATION.

Would you please determine if either or both actions are in compliance with your organization's policies and provide me with the results?

Incidentally, per this 30 May 2019 Press Gazette report by Charlotte Tobitt, my efforts revealed that member publications of the UK's Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) could "disappear" articles without recourse. I hope that doesn't go for your organization's member publications.

Thank you for your time/consideration, best of the holiday season, and would you please confirm receipt?


Peter M. Heimlich
Peachtree Corners, GA 30096 USA
ph: (678)322-7984‬

cc: Charlotte Tobitt, Press Gazette

A tale of two correction requests, Part I: If you can't trust a rabbi, who can you trust?

What do a blogging rabbi in Boca Raton, FL, and New Zealand Herald columnist Ana Samways have in common?

In articles published in the same week, they made the identical factual error. 

And when I sent them polite requests for published corrections, rather than correct the record and inform their readers that they'd goofed, they gave me material for this pair of blog items.

According to his website, Ephrem Goldberg is "the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 800 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. BRS is the largest Orthodox Synagogue in the Southeast United States."

From Rabbi Goldberg's November 9 blog item, Are You An Earth Angel?:
Prior to 1974, the standard practice for dealing with someone who was choking was to whack the afflicted person on the back. Dr. Henry Heimlich argued hitting them that way can force the obstruction further into the gullet, rather than dislodge it. He worked on various theories attempting a better way before ultimately coming up with the technique of putting one’s arms around the person choking and exerting upward abdominal thrusts, just above the navel and below the ribs, with the linked hands in a fist, until the obstruction is dislodged.

...Despite introducing the technique, Heimlich had never actually used it the 42 years of its existence. In 2016, Dr. Heimlich was in the dining room of his retirement home in Cincinnati. A fellow resident at the next table began to choke. Without hesitation, Heimlich spun her around in her chair so he could get behind her and administered several upward thrusts with a fist below the chest until the piece of meat she was choking on popped out of her throat and she could breathe again.
Click on the link in his first paragraph and you'll be taken to a May 27, 2016 Guardian article by reporter Joanna Walters, Dr Henry Heimlich uses Heimlich manoeuvre to save a life at 96, which includes this at the end:
Readers’ editor’s note, added 28 June 2016: This article has been amended to reflect the uncertainty about whether Ms Ris is the first choking diner Dr Heimlich personally saved by using his manoeuvre.
That's because immediately after the first version of the article appeared, I contacted the Guardian (and other news outlets that got punk'd) and shared this information that appeared in the June 28 revision:
After initial reports emerged of Heimlich and his son Philip declaring this was the first time the retired surgeon had used his technique to treat someone who was choking, an account emerged of an earlier incident.

A 2003 BBC Online report quoted Heimlich talking about using the manoeuvre on a choking diner in a restaurant in 2000. Reports also appeared in the New Yorker and the Chicago Sun-Times. Interviewed again on Friday afternoon by the Guardian, the 96-year-old Heimlich said he did not recall such an incident. His son Philip also stated that he had no knowledge of his father using the technique in any prior emergency..

Since we're on the subject, take a look at this clip from Remembering Dr. Heimlich, Decades TV Network, December 20, 2016 featuring an interview with dad and alleged choking victim Patty Ris:

In the bottom right corner in the last scene, you'll see the walker dad relied on to get around. He was so frail, in the clip he can barely get his arms around Ms. Ris.

Did he really have the strength to compress her diaphragm by administering, as Rabbi Goldberg claimed, "several upward thrusts with a fist below the chest"?

As suggested by this wry June 1, 2016 column by James M. Berklan in McKnights Long-Term Care News, This lifesaving coincidence definitely makes you swallow deeply, was it all a media stunt cooked up by Deupree House's PR team as a tie-in to National Heimlich Maneuver Week?

Of course, unless someone coughs up more information we won't know for certain. 

But we do know that Rabbi Goldberg got it wrong about Mr. Ris being dad's first claimed rescue. 

Also apparently the rabbi failed to read the Guardian article he linked to in his item.

In a polite November 11 text, I introduced myself and wrote: 
My Google alert sent me your article today about my dad. You made a somewhat serious factual error. If you'd like to learn more so you decide whether or not you wish to publish a correction, please email me at

A short while later I received this encouraging reply:

I then sent him a friendly email with information that I thought might interest a religious scholar. 

In addition to explaining the error in his "Earth Angel" item, I wrote:
One unexpected privilege and pleasure of the research/whistleblowing efforts by my wife Karen Shulman and me (which helped expose my dad as a dangerous charlatan) is the opportunities I've had to connect with interesting, thoughtful people with whom we otherwise would never have had the opportunity to interact. As it happens, you are my second rabbi! Some years ago I had a lively correspondence with a Southern California rabbi who appreciated the ethical and moral ambiguities in what Karen and I call (for lack of a better term) the Heimlich Saga.

Along those lines, I would much welcome your thoughts as a scholar and presumably a mensch. (smile) Seriously, I have minimal religious training, but I'm confident the Talmud must speak to some of the issues raised by this thorny and perhaps singular story. Heck, maybe one or both of us can even get a blog item out of it.

His reply?

Thank you for being in touch, sounds like a very painful issue. Wishing you only strength and comfort.

During the course of the next week I sent Rabbi Goldberg two more polite emails and a text in which I explained New Zealand columnist Ana Samways had made the same error (see Part II) and that her unusual response to my corrections request had given me enough to blog an item I intended to call "A tale of two corrections requests."

I bent over backwards to give him every opportunity and explained that if he didn't reply, all I had to run with was the above email.

He didn't reply.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

I caught the CDC's FOIA Director violating the Freedom of Information Act - here's what happened when I took it to his boss

CDC FOIA Director Roger Andoh (source)

My first rule when filing a public records request? Always state a dollar cap limit. 

If you don't, the agency can legally bill you whatever it determines is the processing fee. 

That's why in a May 11, 2017 Freedom of Information request to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), I included: 

If the fee for completing my request exceeds US$5, please obtain my written approval prior to completing this request.

The CDC is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. From the HHS website:

So imagine my surprise when, in response to the next FOIA request I sent to the CDC - three years later on April 25, 2020 - I received a reply from one of the agency's FOIA officer that my request was denied. 


The agency claimed I owed an outstanding processing fee of $138 for my 2017 FOIA request. 

This was the first I'd heard of it. I'd never received any letter or invoice, but after some back and forth with the FOIA officer, I learned that the fee had been assessed in a July 31, 2017 letter to me from CDC FOIA Officer Roger Andoh. 

Here's the paragraph:

By the time I received the 2020 denial letter, Mr. Andoh had been promoted to the CDC's FOIA Director. 

Shortly after receiving the denial, I placed a call to Mr. Andoh during which I politely explained that he'd probably made a clerical error and overlooked the $5 cap instruction in my 2017 request. 

He agreed to review the situation and, after we hung up, I sent him a copy of my FOIA request with this highlighted paragraph:

Since it was an open and shut case, I assumed Mr. Andoh would say "oops," cancel the wrongly-assessed fee, and process the request that was rejected because of the wrongly-assessed fee. 

Instead, here's his May 11, 2020 reply, slightly edited for clarity:

(I've reviewed your casefile) and all relevant material and regret to inform you that I am unwilling to waive the fee charged to you. The letter you received (attached) informed you of the assessed charge. You claim you didn't receive the invoice, and I take you at your word, but the letter did inform you of the fee. Additionally, you failed to dispute the fees at that time, which you clearly could have done within 90 days of the date of the letter. In accordance, with HHS FOIA regulation, if a requester has failed to pay past fees, we are required to request payment before we begin processing a new request. Therefore, I have no choice but to deny your request to waive the past fee owed.

First, note the Alice Through the Looking Glass logic. 

Mr. Andoh claims, "I take you at your word." In other words, he accepts that I didn't receive his July 31, 2017 letter with the fee notification.

But then he holds me to the terms of that letter to which he had agreed that I hadn't receive. 

More to the point, he didn't address the root of the matter: the $5 cap in my records request.

Last month I circled back to the situation and filed two investigation requests. 

One was with the FOIA Ombudsman at the Office of Government Information Services asking for a determination if the processing of my request was in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. (Coincidentally, Mr. Andoh currently serves on that group's advisory committee.) 

That office is reviewing my request. I'll publish the results as available.

My other request went to Mr. Andoh's boss, CDC Chief Operating Officer Robin Bailey Jr., in the form of an employee review. That is, I wanted to know if Mr. Andoh's handling of the matter was in compliance with CDC employee guidelines and the Freedom of Information Act.

Also from my request: 

Since Mr. Andoh mishandled a case as simple and straightforward as mine, I'm concerned that I may not be the only example. With that in mind, I'd urge you to review his caseload in recent years to determine if other FOIA requests are being improperly processed.

I courtesy copied Vesna Kurspahic who works as a liason to the CDC in the office of my congressional representative, Carolyn Bourdeaux. If I got the bum's rush, I could request a helping hand there.

Yesterday afternoon I received this email:

Subject: request for employee review
Sent: Mon, Nov 8, 2021 at 5:37 PM
From: Bailey, Robin (CDC/OCOO/OD) <>
To: Peter Heimlich <>
Cc: "" <>

Mr. Heimlich,

After careful review, I am waiving the assessment of your 2017 FOIA request. I have made Mr. Andoh aware of my decision. Thank you for your patience.


Robin D. Bailey, Jr.
Chief Operating Officer
Office of the Chief Operating Officer|Office of the Director (OCOO/OD)
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Here's my reply:

Subject: request for employee review
From: Peter Heimlich <>
Sent: Mon, Nov 8, 2021 at 6:09 PM
To: "Bailey, Robin (CDC/OCOO/OD)" <>

Robin Bailey, MA
Chief Operating Officer
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30329

Dear Mr. Bailey,

Thank you for this.

While I appreciate you waiving the wrongly-imposed fee, I requested an employee review of whether or not Mr. Andoh's handling of the matter was conducted according to FOIA and CDC employee guidelines. 

In my opinion, among other issues it needs to be determined if Mr. Andoh's mishandling of my FOIA request was an isolated case or if he has mishandled other FOIA requests.

Do you intend to conduct such a review? If not, to which departments may I file my request?

Further, since you've waived the wrongly-imposed fee, would you please instruct the CDC's FOIA department to process my April 25, 2020 records request which was refused due to the wrongly-imposed fee?

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


Peter M. Heimlich
Peachtree Corners, GA 30096 USA
ph: (678)322-7984

I'll update this post with any developments. 

Click here for a pdf of all relevant correspondence and supporting documents.