March 25, 2021 — One of the top research journals in the United States has placed its editor in chief on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into a controversial podcast episode that critics labeled as racist.
The American Medical Association’s Joint Oversight Committee announced that Howard Bauchner, MD, is on leave beginning at the end of the day. Bauchner is the top editor at JAMA, the journal of the AMA.
“The decision to place the editor-in-chief on administrative leave neither implicates nor exonerates individuals and is standard operating procedure for such investigations,” the committee said in a statement.
However, many critics of the podcast see this as an important first step. The decision to remove Bauchner during the investigation “potentially corroborates JAMA’s intentions to become a more culturally competent organization,” says Steven Bradley, MD, an anesthesiologist and fellow of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics.
“Hopefully, this signifies an increased effort to diversify the staff at JAMA, as increased diversity will provide additional viewpoints on issues surrounding ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status,” says Bradley, who hosts The Black Doctor Podcast. “These issues have always been important because these are the issues our patients deal with.”
Already, Edward H. Livingston, MD, the host of the podcast has resigned as deputy editor of the journal.
During the podcast, Livingston, who is white, said, “Structural racism is an unfortunate term. Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many of us are offended by the concept that we are racist.”
The audio of podcast has been deleted from JAMA’s website. In its place is audio of a statement from Bauchner. In his statement, which he released last week, he said the comments in the podcast, which also featured Mitch Katz, MD, were “inaccurate, offensive, hurtful and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA.”
Also deleted was a JAMA tweet promoting the podcast episode. The tweet said: “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.”