Dr. Henry Heimlich died on Dec. 17, 2016. He was the thoracic surgeon famous for his namesake “maneuver,” which is credited with saving thousands of people from choking to death on their food. He was 96 years old.
Each one of those facts has been confirmed by Heimlich’s son Peter. That’s because the Erik Wemple Blog wishes to avoid a Heimlich-obituary-oriented correction. Like the one that the Associated Press had to run:
In a story Dec. 17 about the death of Dr. Henry Heimlich, The Associated Press erroneously reported the year the U.S. Navy sent him to northwest China. It was 1945, not 1942. The AP also reported the American Heart Association backs abdominal thrusts in choking cases. The story should have made clear that the association stresses that such thrusts should not be used on infants or unconscious victims.
Or like the one the Wall Street Journal had to run:
Corrections & Amplifications
Romanian physician Dan Gavriliu is believed to have been the first to perform an esophageal operation that Henry Heimlich later popularized in the 1950s in the U.S. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Dr. Heimlich invented it. Separately, the obituary failed to name all of his surviving children. They are Phil, Peter, Janet and Elisabeth. (Jan. 25, 2017)
(This December 17, 2016 story was corrected to recast paragraph 14 and show that Red Cross adopted Heimlich method in 1976)
CORRECTION: This obituary had several errors. The American Red Cross began adopting Dr. Heimlich’s abdominal thrust maneuver in 1976, not 1986. Some of his early anti-choking experiments were on four anesthetized beagles, not one beagle. After the first aid maneuver was publicly introduced in 1974, Dr. Heimlich reportedly received in that first year about 200 documented cases of lives saved, not 2,000. He did not, as the obituary reported, start a company in the early 1960s to manufacture valves to drain severe chest wounds. The story has been revised.
Correction: This report initially included mention that Heimlich received the Albert Lasker Public Service Award in 1984. It continued: The Lasker Awards, dubbed, “America’s Nobels” recognize scientists, including the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver, “who have made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure and prevention of human disease.” Dr. Heimlich did receive the award but a spokesman for the awards said neither the Wright Brothers nor George Washington Carver were recipients.
Though those corrections were typed by people at the various publications, they’re the opus of Peter Heimlich. A 62-year-old blogger-cum-investigator, Peter Heimlich tells the Erik Wemple Blog that there are more corrections out there, too — though you wouldn’t know it from looking at the stories. A short NPR look-back on the life of Dr. Henry Heimlich, for example, underwent a change that might not jump out at the casual reader. An early version of NPR’s story carries this paragraph:
NPR rep Isabel Lara tells this blog that when “it was brought to our attention that there was some question about just what had saved Halle Barry, we removed her name and replaced it with another of the celebrities cited in the RadioLab report that we link to in the piece.” That explanation answers why the text changed, though it doesn’t address why no correction was appended to the piece. “There wasn’t anything to correct, we were accurately citing Radiolab’s piece and still are,” notes Lara via email.
Correction-oriented sloppiness notwithstanding, what’s the deal here? Was Berry not a beneficiary of the Heimlich maneuver? Almost, according to this 2002 piece in Esquire titled “007 Interesting Things About Pierce Brosnan.” As the Berry and Brosnan were filming a steamy scene for “Die Another Day,” Berry somehow began choking on a piece of fruit. “I was about to put my arms around her and start doing the Heimlich, but the both of us were kind of naked,” Brosnan later related. “And then she somehow expelled the fruit, which was a good thing because I had never given anyone the Heimlich before. And I was certainly in no position to give it to Halle at that moment.”
Consistent with Brosnan’s account, Berry denied being saved by the Heimlich, according to a 2014 piece by the Hollywood Reporter. Even so, Dr. Henry Heimlich’s memoir, “Heimlich’s Maneuvers: My Seventy Years of Livesaving Innovation,” includes the star on his list of life-saves.
Berry’s history with fruit snacks brings us to Peter Heimlich’s ongoing spat with the New York Times. Robert D. McFadden dropped Berry into the list of Heimlich recoverees in his obituary: “It is also the stuff of breathless, brink-of-death tales, told over the years by Ronald Reagan, Edward I. Koch, Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn, Cher, Walter Matthau, Halle Berry, Carrie Fisher, Jack Lemmon, the sportscaster Dick Vitale, the television newsman John Chancellor and many others.”
The New York Times heard from Peter Heimlich. On Jan. 9, he emailed the newspaper with correction requests over the Berry thing as well as a contention regarding the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The New York Times later informed him that it wouldn’t be responding. So he elevated the issue to Liz Spayd, the public editor. She responded with these thoughts and referenced a discussion with senior editor for standards Greg Brock :
I have reviewed your letter and the correspondence you have already had with Greg Brock, and I am not going to pursue this further. I realize this is important to you, and has been for some time, but this would essentially require me to investigate several portions of your father’s life. As Mr. Brock said, “That is not something we are going to get involved in by rewriting his life story to suit you — or perhaps even the way he would have liked it. It seems those issues should have been settled in his lifetime, not after his death.”
I appreciate you taking the time to write.
That’s when Peter Heimlich turned to the Erik Wemple Blog, a bastion of accountability in relation to medical history. He CC’d us in an appeal to Spayd that included this elbow: “Needless to say, for the paper of record not to correct factual errors is a slippery and troubling slope. I also think failing to correct the errors is a disservice to a good reporter like Mr. McFadden who’s left owning the goofs under his byline.” We have asked Spayd for a further explanation; she referred us to Brock; Brock says that a correction is in the works.
That’s at least seven corrections/amendments from some of the biggest names in the news business, over a single news topic. Record?
What drives a man to demand corrections of media outlets in a crusade to shrink his own father’s legacy is beyond the wonky ambit of the Erik Wemple Blog. [Update: Peter Heimlich wrote to the Erik Wemple Blog after publication to protest that the reason he files the corrections requests is because he values accurate reporting.] The subject, in any case, has been excavated by writer Jason Zengerle in 2007 New Republic story. In the early 2000s, Peter Heimlich concluded that his father was not paying sufficient attention to family “medical problems.” Unsatisfied with Dr. Henry Heimlich’s response, Peter Heimlich started digging. “He began combing through the old newspaper articles and checking out medical journals from the library, searching for impropriety,” writes Zengerle. “It wasn’t long before he thought he had found it. Indeed, Peter soon became convinced that the wrongdoing he had uncovered was so significant that his project became less a personal vendetta than an ‘ethical responsibility.’ ”
A great deal of additional reporting has sunk into this long-running family feud. To hear it directly from Peter Heimlich — who has partnered with his wife, Karen Shulman — try his blog. Phil Heimlich, Peter’s brother, tells us via email, “We have never fully understood just what has driven him to continue his pursuit to harm Dad’s reputation. Because our brother’s actions were hurtful to our father, Dad rarely discussed the issue.”