Editor of medical journal suspended after podcast discussion denying ‘structural racism’ in healthcare

The Journal of the American Medical Association has suspended the influential magazine’s editor after a podcast with two white doctors that included comments on racism in medicine that were considered controversial by critics.

Editor-in-chief Howard Bauchner, M.D. will be replaced by the independent association panel that supervises JAMA as it conducts an investigation following a podcast discussion and a later tweet regarding structural racism in healthcare, according to The New York Times.

“The decision to place the editor-in-chief on administrative leave neither implicates nor exonerates individuals and is standard operating procedure for such investigations,” said the committee in a statement.

The debate stems from a Feb. 24 podcast on the JAMA Network in which deputy editor Ed Livingston said there is no systemic racism in the U.S. anymore.  

“Structural racism is an unfortunate term,” said Livingston, who is white. “Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many people like myself are offended by the implication that we are somehow racist.”

JAMA then noted in a tweet that has since been deleted, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?”

The tweet garnered stiff pushback online, with some complaining that JAMA deleted the offending tweet.

Meanwhile, a Change.org petition initiated by the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine had far surpassed its 2,500-signature threshold by Saturday, which called for a review of Bauchner’s editorial leadership at JAMA.

For his part, Bauchner issued a statement apologizing for the comments.

“Comments made in the podcast were inaccurate, offensive, hurtful, and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA,” he said, noting that the podcast has also been taken down. “Racism and structural racism exist in the U.S. and in health care. After careful consideration, I determined that the harms caused by the podcast outweighed any reason for the podcast to remain available on the JAMA Network.

“I once again apologize for the harms caused by this podcast and the tweet about the podcast.  We are instituting changes that will address and prevent such failures from happening again,” Bauchner added.

In a separate statement, Bauchner said, “The language of the tweet, as well as portions of the podcast, do not reflect my commitment as editorial leader of JAMA and JAMA Network to call out and discuss the adverse effects of injustice, inequity, and racism in medicine and society as JAMA has done for many years.”

Livingston has since reportedly resigned.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Dr. Raymond Givens, a Black cardiologist in New York, said JAMA’s removal of Bauchner is “a reasonable first step but it should not be seen as mission accomplished.”

“Without diversity, you don’t know what you don’t know,” Givens, long a critic of the lack of diversity among JAMA’s editors, added. “With such a non-diverse panel of people, you have all these blind spots that allow these podcasts to go from execution to publication without anybody saying, ‘Wait a minute, this is ill-advised.’”

The AP noted further that Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, JAMA’s executive editor, will serve as interim editor-in-chief.

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Jon Dougherty

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