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Top JAMA editor on leave amid podcast racism controversy

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The editor-in-chief of the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a probe into a controversial podcast episode that appeared to deny structural racism exists in health care — which critics quickly blasted as racist.

The American Medical Association’s Joint Oversight Committee announced Thursday that Dr. Howard Bauchner would be replaced by an interim editor.

“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, WebMD reported.

Dr. Edward Livingston, the host of the podcast, already resigned as deputy editor of JAMA after he and the journal faced significant backlash over the February episode.

Livingston, who is white, said during the podcast: “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 podcast’s audio has been deleted from JAMA’s website and replaced with a statement from Bauchner in which he said comments in the podcast — which also featured Dr. Mitch Katz — were “inaccurate, offensive, hurtful and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA.”

He added: “Racism and structural racism exist in the US and in health care. After careful consideration, I determined that the harms caused by the podcast outweighed any reason for the podcast to remain available on the JAMA Network.  

“I once again apologize for the harms caused by this podcast and the tweet about the podcast. We are instituting changes that will address and prevent such failures from happening again,” Bauchner added.

Also deleted from the site was a JAMA tweet promoting the podcast that 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.”

Dr. Steven Bradley, an anesthesiologist and fellow of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics who hosts “The Black Doctor Podcast,” praised the journal’s decision to place Bauchner on leave pending the probe — saying it “potentially corroborates JAMA’s intentions to become a more culturally competent organization.”

“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,” Bradley added.

But he also criticized JAMA’s decision to remove the podcast as a missed opportunity to make it a learning tool.

“As a podcast host and creator, I bear full responsibility for what I release,” Bradley told WebMD. “My platform is much smaller than the JAMA network, however, and with a greater platform comes greater responsibility.”

Some called the episode — which was designed for physicians and billed as a discussion for skeptics — “cringeworthy″ and said doctors who have experienced racism should have been involved, ABC News reported.

Dr. James Madara, CEO of the American Medical Association — which owns and publishes JAMA but has no editorial control – said in a statement that “structural racism in health care and our society exists and it is incumbent on all of us to fix it,” according to the network.

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