Medical journal editor-in-chief to step down after backlash over podcast on racism in health care

The editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) plans to step down later this month after the journal received backlash for publishing a podcast that included controversial remarks from two white doctors on structural racism in health care.

The American Medical Association (AMA) announced Tuesday that Howard Bauchner will leave his position after 10 years on June 30 following a review of the podcast and a related tweet. The editor-in-chief had been on administrative leave since March while the review was conducted. 

Bauchner said he remains “profoundly disappointed in myself for the lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast.”

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“Although I did not write or even see the tweet, or create the podcast, as editor-in-chief, I am ultimately responsible for them,” he said in a 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,” he added.

Thousands signed a petition requesting Bauchner be held accountable for a Feb. 24 podcast episode produced on the JAMA Network, in which deputy editor Ed Livingston said structural racism does not exist anymore in the U.S.

“Structural racism is an unfortunate term,” Livingston said. “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 also tweeted a promotion of the podcast episode saying, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?”

Both the podcast and tweet drew strong scrutiny, prompting the journal to delete the tweet and withdraw the podcast episode and for Livingston to resign.

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Bauchner issued an apology for the podcast episode, labeling the remarks as “inaccurate, offensive, hurtful and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA.”

“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," he wrote.

The AMA committee that investigated the situation told The New York Times in March that Bauchner could be replaced by an interim editor pending the results of the probe. 

Phil Fontanarosa, the executive editor of JAMA, will be the interim editor-in-chief during the AMA’s search for Bauchner’s replacement.