Everyone probably has heard the story by now. The editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association was fired in January for publishing an article on young Americans' sex habits, which AMA chief E. Ratcliffe Anderson Jr., M.D., said inappropriately and inexcusably involved JAMA in the presidential impeachment scandal.
At first I didn't pay much attention to the firing of George Lundberg, M.D. From all the reports I had read, he apparently did a fine job as editor of the magazine and upgraded JAMA's image within the medical community. At least that's what Lundberg fans would have us believe.
But with or without Lundberg, JAMA always has been considered a distinguished clinical medical journal of the highest rank. Even though Lundberg is extolled as the person who brought fame to JAMA, other editors who preceded him did an equally good job with the publication.
The great clinician John H. Talbot, M.D., who was the journal's editor during the 1960s and early 1970s, comes to mind. He instituted many of the changes in the journal that continue today. The covers, which feature works of art, are one example of his contributions.
Talbot always exhibited high ethics. I should know: I worked closely with him during the 13 years I was general sales manager and director of communications for the Chicago-based AMA.
A lot of people in and out of the medical community deplored the firing of Lundberg. Commentators wrote articles about freedom of the press and how stupid the AMA was to fire the likes of Lundberg. They seemed to be saying he was untouchable.
But Lundberg is no different from the rest of us. We all report to someone, and if that person or group doesn't like the way we are doing our job, we get fired. It's as simple as that.
Just when things seemed to have cooled off over Lundberg's firing, there was a new development to the story. Lundberg made some comments in a February interview with a Chicago Tribune reporter that led me to believe the AMA was right in letting him go.
The Tribune quoted Lundberg as saying, "I don't think a day went by in considering what to publish that I and my editorial staff didn't have to worry about offending AMA members, AMA politicians and the AMA Washington office by what we published."
What did Lundberg expect? Individuals going to work for an association should understand they will be subjected to pressures from the membership, committees and councils of that organization. Thinking otherwise is naive.
There isn't a single association I know of where this wouldn't be the case. By their very nature, associations are biased; they are in business to represent their constituency. In addition, according to the article in the Tribune, Lundberg was not able to provide names and dates of so-called "interference" and pressure.
Because the AMA owns and publishes JAMA, its executives have every right to fire someone they feel doesn't represent the association well.
Furthermore, JAMA is the star of the show, not the editor. If Lundberg truly wants to be independent, he should start his own journal and not work for a trade association. Sometimes the brightest of the bright just don't seem to have much common sense.
It isn't hard to figure out, Charles S. Lauer Publisher