JAMA Editor Resigns Over Controversial Podcast

This story was updated throughout on March 11. 

March 10, 2021 – Edward H. Livingston, MD, has resigned as deputy editor of the journal of the American Medical Association after he and the journal faced significant backlash over a February podcast that questioned the existence of structural racism.

JAMA Editor-in-Chief Howard Bauchner, MD, apologized to JAMA staff and stakeholders and asked for and received Livingston’s resignation, according to a statement from AMA CEO James Madara.

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org calling for an investigation at JAMA over the podcast, called “Structural Racism for Doctors: What Is It?”

It appears they are now getting their wish. Bauchner announced that the journal’s oversight committee is investigating how the podcast and a tweet promoting the episode were developed, reviewed, and ultimately posted.

“This investigation and report of its findings will be thorough and completed rapidly,” Bauchner said.

Livingston, the host of the podcast, has been heavily criticized across social media. 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.”

Katz is an editor at JAMA Internal Medicine and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals in New York City.

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.”

The incident was met with anger and confusion in the medical community.

Herbert C. Smitherman, MD, vice dean of diversity and community affairs at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, noted after hearing the podcast that it was a symptom of a much larger problem.

“At its core, this podcast had racist tendencies. Those attitudes are why you don’t have as many articles by Black and brown people in JAMA,” he said. “People’s attitudes, whether conscious or unconscious, are what drive the policies and practices which create the structural racism.” 

Katz responded to the backlash last week with the following statement: “Systemic racism exists in our country. The disparate effects of the pandemic have made this painfully clear in New York City and across the country.

“As clinicians, we must understand how these structures and policies have a direct impact on the health outcomes of the patients and communities we serve. It is woefully naïve to say that no physician is a racist just because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade it, or that we should avoid the term ‘systematic racism’ because it makes people uncomfortable. We must and can do better.”

JAMA, an independent arm of the American Medical Association, is taking other steps to address concerns. Its executive publisher, Thomas Easley, held an employee town hall this week, and said JAMA acknowledges that “structural racism is real, pernicious and pervasive in health care.” The journal is also starting an “end-to-end review” of all editorial processes across all JAMA publications. Finally, the journal will also create a new associate editor’s position who will provide “insight and counsel” on racism and structural racism in health care.

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