The deputy editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was asked to resign in the wake of criticism over comments he made on a podcast about structural racism.
In the February podcast, titled “Structural Racism for Doctors: What Is It?” Edward H. Livingston, MD, interviewed Dr. Mitch Katz, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, about the concept.
Livingston begins his closing summary by saying, ”Structural racism is an unfortunate term to describe a very real problem.”
JAMA received social media criticism for publishing the podcast and for a tweet promoting it, which has since been deleted, which read: “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care? An explanation of the idea by doctors for doctors in this user-friendly podcast.”
More than 2,000 people had signed a Change.org petition to investigate the podcast, started by a group called The Institute for Antiracism in Medicine, at the time of Livingston’s firing.
Dropped Like a Bad Habit
The podcast has now been taken down and replaced with an audio clip in which JAMA Editor-in-Chief Howard Bauchner, MD, calls the comments “inaccurate, offensive, hurtful and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA.” Bauchner adds that “racism and structural racism exist in the United States and in health care.”
Livingston describes his upbringing as “antiracist” and never questions the existence of structural racism in the episode. However, the episode received backlash over an out-of-context line in which Livingston questions the efficacy of using emotionally charged language: “Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many of us are offended by the concept that we are racist.”
Bauchner released a statement saying that JAMA will schedule a follow-up episode to address the backlash. American Medical Association CEO James Madara released a statement announcing a review of JAMA editorial processes and the hiring of a new race-focused associate editor. Both actions were specifically called for in the Change.org petition.
On June 1, JAMA announced that Bauchner would be stepping down as editor-in-chief. Bauchner was put on administrative leave after the podcast and an internal investigation took place. In Jama’s news release announcing the resignation, Bauchner was quoted as saying he was “profoundly disappointed” in himself for “lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast.”
Ignores the Root Problems
Kenneth A. Fisher, M.D, author of Understanding Healthcare: A Historical Perspective, criticized Bauchner’s decision to delete the podcast and make it unavailable to the public.
“The act of removing it stifles any opportunity to carefully examine the supposed misdeeds,” Fisher told Health Care News.
“We seem to have forgotten Dr. Martin Luther King’s admonition, he looks forward to the day when people are NOT judged by what they look like, but by the strength of their character,” said Fisher. “Each individual has their own personal story that we need to take the time to truly understand. Unfortunately with the pressures put upon physicians by today’s insurance companies and the government requiring many hours of administrative time, we have far too little to really get to know our patients. The AMA is silent on this issue. We still do not know exactly what was said in the blog post.”
Gabriela Eyal, a clinical psychologist in Michigan, concurs. “I see this as a small minority of vocal activists imposing their agenda on the general population,” said Eyal. “Freedom of speech is the first victim but not the only one. This vocal group of activists wants to impose one viewpoint on all of us and silence anyone who has a different opinion.”
Eyal says the trend of suppressing scientific discussion and debate is headed down a dark path and related a story of her university professor attending a conference in Soviet Russia. “A session scientist made a presentation, and a scientist from a Western country disagreed with him. The organizers asked for a break and, when they came back, they announced, “we asked, and the Politburo decided the Soviet scientist is right.”
This article was updated on June 7, 2021.