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  • Margaret Steele
  • Posted June 1, 2021

JAMA Journals' Editor-in-Chief Steps Down After Deputy's Racism Comments

Because of controversial statements about racism made by a staff member, the editor-in-chief of JAMA and JAMA Network will step down on June 30, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced Tuesday.

Dr. Howard Bauchner, JAMA's chief since 2011, has been on administrative leave due to a JAMA podcast and tweet about structural racism in medicine that ignited a storm of protest.

"I remain profoundly disappointed in myself for the lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast. Although I did not write or even see the tweet, or create the podcast, as editor-in-chief, I am ultimately responsible for them," Bauchner said in a statement Tuesday.

The firestorm began on Feb. 24, when Dr. Ed Livingston, a deputy editor who is white, said on a podcast that structural racism no longer existed in the United States.

"Structural racism is an unfortunate term," said Livingston. "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."

A tweet from the journal in conjunction with the podcast went further: "No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?"

Criticism poured in, and the journal removed the podcast and deleted the tweet. Bauchner apologized a week later, saying the comments were inaccurate, offensive and hurtful. In a statement at the time, he said changes were being instituted to prevent "such failures" from occurring again.

Livingston subsequently resigned.

But many critics felt JAMA had not gone far enough. According to The New York Times, a group of doctors emailed the AMA, calling for "a careful investigation of the JAMA editorial staff and board, up to and including the removal of Dr. Howard Bauchner."

The email authors also launched a petition urging the journal to review and restructure the editorial process. The petition also asked that Bauchner be held accountable. It has been signed by almost 7,000 people.

"It's not just that this podcast is problematic - it's that there is a long and documented history of institutional racism at JAMA," Dr. Brittani James, a Black physician who practices on the South Side of Chicago and who helped launch the petition, told theTimes.

"That podcast should never have happened," said Dr. Uché Blackstock, an emergency medicine physician in New York City. "That tweet should never have happened. The fact that podcast was conceived of, recorded and posted was unconscionable," she told the newspaper.

"I think it caused an incalculable amount of pain and trauma to Black physicians and patients," Blackstock said. "And I think it's going to take a long time for the journal to heal that pain."

An AMA email to employees promised its investigation would probe "how the podcast and associated tweet were developed, reviewed, and ultimately published," and said that the AMA had engaged independent investigators to ensure objectivity, the Times reported.

Bauchner, who led the journal and JAMA Network through years of expansion, took a stand against racism in medicine in Tuesday's statement:

"I share and have always supported the AMA's commitment to dismantling structural racism in the institutions of American medicine, as evident by numerous publications in JAMA on this issue and related subjects, and look forward to personally contributing to that work going forward," Bauchner said.

"To advance equity in medicine, my contributions will be best accomplished in other venues. The best path forward for the JAMA Network, and for me personally, is to create an opportunity for new leadership at JAMA," he added.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about racism.

SOURCES: JAMA, news release, June 1, 2021; The New York Times

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