New Trophies for the Cancel Culture Wall

Lessons Unlearned, Opportunities Missed by JAMA, ESPN, and Google

(Resending, since half the post was missing from distribution. Apologies)

It was quite a week for cancel culture, which claimed three trophies from three separate American institutions: Medicine, Sports Broadcasting (gambling, specifically), and Big Tech. The latest trophies on Cancel Culture’s expanding wall include Dr. Howard Bauchner, the 11-year editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA); Kelly Stewart, host of “Daily Wager” on ESPN; and Kamau Bobb, former head of Diversity for Google.

There was a fourth from Hollywood, and it’s a doozy. But I’ll keep to my rule of three. Let’s take Dr. Bauchner first.

Let’s let The Scientist tell the story:

Howard Bauchner, the editor-in-chief of JAMA for the last 11 years, will resign at the end of June following backlash over comments made by another journal editor about racism in healthcare. JAMA’s executive editor Phil Fontanarosa will serve as interim editor-in-chief.

Bauchner’s departure comes months after two editors of JAMA journals suggested in a podcast that structural racism does not exist in medicine. The two white doctors—Ed Livingston, the deputy editor of clinical content at JAMA, and Mitchell Katz, an editor at JAMAInternal Medicine—denied that they themselves were racist, suggested the word racism “might be hurting us,” and questioned whether racism could exist when it is “illegal,” a full transcript of the podcast reveals. Neither Livingston nor Katz are experts in structural racism. A since-deleted tweet advertising the podcast and shared by Buzzfeed also read, in part, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in healthcare?” 

“I remain profoundly disappointed in myself for the lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast. Although I did not write or even see the tweet, or create the podcast, as editor-in-chief, I am ultimately responsible for them,” Bauchner says in a statement released by the American Medical Association (AMA), which publishes more than 100 JAMA journals. 

I encourage you to read the transcript of the podcast here. Here is how the “offensive” introduction to the interview started that resulted in so much “hurt” and “anger.”

This is the third and final installment of my recent interview with Dr. Mitch Katz, the President and CEO of New York City Health and Hospitals. In the first two parts that are linked to in the show notes, we talked about COVID-19 and New York and LA, and racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19. In this final installment, we discussed structural racism. Going into this interview, I didn't understand the concept. Racism is defined as the use of race to make decisions about what people can or can't do, or somehow influence their possibilities. The use of race for any sort of transactional activity was made patently illegal by the civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s. Given that racism is illegal, how can it be so embedded in society that it's considered structural. As a child of the 60s, I didn't get it. I asked Dr. Katz about this concept, what it means and what needs to be done about it. In today's JAMA Clinical Reviews podcast, we discuss structural racism for skeptics.

Never mind how Dr. Livington quickly responds:

Yeah, I think it's a great question, Ed. I think actually acknowledging structural racism can be helpful to us, because structural racism is not about whether someone is a racist, or whether some individual person loves other people of a different ethnicity or doesn't like it. It's not about people's personal opinions. Structural racism refers to a system in which policies or practices or how we look at people perpetuates racial inequality. So it gets people off the question of, well, what are people talking about, I'm not racist, my neighbor is African American, he and I go golfing every weekend, we love each other. You know, I'm not racist. This is not about racism—meaning someone's individual views. This is about how, as a society, we perpetuate inequality.

Dr. Katz goes on to outline specific instances of racial disparities in medicine. It was - is - interesting, insightful, and educational. It appears to be a reasonable conversation. Neither highly respected medical professional is racist or harbors racist tendencies. But somehow, this is a lapse in judgment because it resulted in “hurt, anger, and outrage.”

Instead of initiating engagement and meaningful dialogue, the hurt-anger-outrage crowd went headhunting to cancel the accomplished editor of a distinguished medical publication - probably the most respected in their genre. What, exactly, did that accomplish? Instead of employing ancient strategies that begin with grace and forgiveness, a career is besmirched with the odious taint of racism. And those who dare question systemic racism, even out of intellectual curiosity, will face recrimination. So, instead, people will remain silent, and “we need a conversation” rhetoric from the woke will take on the taint of hypocrisy.

The intimidation into silence is now complete. No conversations will be allowed. Just maybe, we need to learn how to handle and channel our outrage to more constructive ends. A lesson missed. But maybe some have another objective in mind.

Of course, systemic racism has existed. It was pervasive. Just for starters, consider the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the embrace of the Ku Klux Klan by one of our major political parties, and the segregation of the federal workforce, including the military, by President Woodrow Wilson that largely persisted until Harry Truman ended that after World War II. If you want to see what “systemic racism” looks like today, you may need to visit Xinjiang Province in communist China. Uyghur Muslims are held in slavery and experiencing genocide. America, however, as US Sen. Tim Scot (R-SC) has said repeatedly, is not a “racist country.”

This “resignation” raises more questions than answers and more fear than hope. Why not discuss the evidence of “systemic racism” in the medical field or any profession today? Is there a better way to respond to disagreements besides trying to cancel and silence people? When people chose to bully others into submission to an ideology instead of seizing an opportunity to enlighten people through discourse, something else is at play.

Next, meet Kelly Stewart.

I know nothing of the world of sports gambling, but that’s her thing. She’s known as a “handicapper.” ESPN hired her a month ago to host a show called “Daily Wager.”

But she was just let go after less than a month. Why? Mean tweets she made in 2012. I’ll let her tell the story:

So, instead of telling the trolls who found her old tweets to pound sand, they dismissed her. It is another lesson for young people - reconsider your presence on social media. Anything you write or post today - no matter how innocuous or innocent it may seem today - will be judged by standards in the future and used against you when convenient.

Also, chose your employer just as carefully as they choose you. Working for a “woke” corporation may sound or look really cool, but guess what kind of workplace throws workers under the bus at the first whiff of a social media “error in judgment?” Yup, a spineless woke employer like ESPN.

Meanwhile, ESPN has hired the offensive Keith Olbermann not once but three times. Cancel culture is not only about silencing and destroying lives and careers but eschewing forgiveness, often with a double dose of hypocrisy. It is one thing to send out an offensive tweet while identifying yourself as an employee or representative of an organization. That was not the case here.

Lastly, let’s meet Kamau Bobb, fired after three years as head of Diversity at tech giant Google. Not for just one transgression, but two - a long-since-deleted 2007 article entitled, “If I were a Jew” that is anti-semitic and a hostile statement about LGBT people.

To be clear, Bobb, unlike Stewart, was not fired. Nor did he “resign,” as Dr. Bauchner was forced to do. He was reassigned. As with Bauchner and Stewart, he apologized. But he was still removed from his role.

Again: did Google dismiss an opportunity to make a point about true diversity, especially grace and forgiveness for the repentant? Yes, he made statements that were deeply offensive and “hurtful.” In at least one case, they were made more than a decade ago, some ten years before he ascended to his now-former position. Surely, of all organizations, Google “Googled” him before they hired him. If they were not aware of these old comments, they should have been.

Many conservatives cheer Google's dismissal of their diversity chief. After all, most of the heads on Cancel Culture’s ever-expanding wall belong to conservatives in academia, publishing, and especially corporations; it's a dose of their own medicine, so to speak, especially for the owner of YouTube.com. There's a website that purports to track cancelations. There's a lot, and it probably scratches the surface. But we would be wiser to fight Cancel Culture in all its forms. Otherwise, conservatives, too, will look like hypocrites. 

Regardless, I question whether he should have been fired or the experience used to demonstrate how a real diversity and inclusion program should operate. And not what it can teach to the offender, but the offended - how to forgive, engage, enlighten, and learn, especially how to manage their “hurt.” Another opportunity missed. Shame.

Chalk up three more trophies on the wall for the cancel culture crowd. This will only incentivize and inspire more such witch hunts.

It looks like they’re going to need a bigger wall.