Unless you believe in the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny, it's difficult to buy into the notion that a publication owned by a healthcare trade association is editorially independent.
Yet the American Medical Association continues to take big heat for the recent firing of George Lundberg, M.D. After serving 17 years as editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Lundberg was sacked last month for "inappropriately and inexcusably" interjecting the AMA "into a major political debate that had nothing to do with science or medicine," said E. Ratcliffe Anderson Jr., M.D., the AMA's new chief executive officer.
A review of how and why JAMA published the Jan. 20 article "Would You Say You `Had Sex' If. . . "-based on a study that showed a majority of college students share President Clinton's view that oral sex is not really sex-makes it easier to understand why Anderson felt he had just cause to terminate Lundberg.
For example, Anderson and other top AMA officials were not given a proper heads-up that the journal was going to publish the controversial sex study. Moreover, Anderson said the incident was the last straw in a series of communication gaffes between the two men.
As much as it hurts to see an editor get fired over a publishing decision, the worldwide outcry and the unwavering support for Lundberg among his medical journal peers seem a tad misguided. When it comes to trade associations and journalism, advocacy usually gets in the way. That's one reason reporters representing trade groups are not given credentials to sit in the press gallery during congressional meetings.
Although Anderson handled the termination of Lundberg with the AMA's customary sloppiness, it was clear that serious differences existed between the longtime editor and the new AMA boss.
That said, firing an editor who served with such passion and pride seems an odd way to start rebuilding the AMA's tarnished image-something Anderson must do and for which he has every right to select top aides to help him.
Perhaps Anderson would have been better off issuing a stern warning and then attempting to offer an attractive retirement package to the 65-year-old Lundberg.
Instead, the AMA is left to wallow in another public relations mess.