ABC News said it placed one of its senior executives on administrative leave after a Huffington Post report detailed alleged complaints about her behavior lodged by staffers to the human-resources department.
Barbara Fedida joined ABC News for a second stint when Ben Sherwood, the former president of the division, brought her aboard in 2011 as senior vice president for talent and business. As part of that role, she had a strong influence in determining who ABC News hired and the career paths of many of the news operation’s journalists and correspondents. She has over the years been seen by staffers as an aide to the unit’s top managers, acting as a lieutenant of sorts to Sherwood and other senior ABC News executives. She currently reports to ABC News President James Goldston.
The Huffington Post report cited interviews with 34 sources over the course of six months, including current and former ABC News staff and talent, as well as other people familiar with “the inner workings of ABC News.” The report raises allegations of a series of insensitive comments, often with racial remarks, made by Fedida in front of staffers during her tenure.
Among the claims raised in the story is a remark made when Fedida was involved in negotiations with “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Robert’s contract. When Fedida and her colleagues were discussing how Roberts wanted more money as a part of her contract renewal, the report alleges Fedida said it wasn’t as if ABC was asking her to “pick cotton.” In another incident, Fedida reportedly asked attendees at a company lunch held following mass shooting incidents in the U.S. which ABC News employee would be most likely to be an active shooter. Some employees filed complaints with human resources following that incident, the report stated.
“There are deeply disturbing allegations in this story that we need to investigate, and we have placed Barbara Fedida on administrative leave while we conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” ABC News said in a statement. “These allegations do not represent the values and culture of ABC News, where we strive to make everyone feel respected in a thriving, diverse and inclusive workplace.”
Fedida is the latest media executive to come under scrutiny as the industry grapples with the fallout from recent protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. The reaction to Floyd’s death has sparked a new national discussion over how people of all backgrounds, races and creeds are treated in American society.
In the TV-news business, Fedida has played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role, and her hiring decisions can help catapult careers skyward. Over the years at ABC News and CBS News, she has been integral in the recruiting and hiring of well-known correspondents and anchors including Tom Llamas, Sara Haines, Meghan McCain and Ginger Zee at ABC, and Jeff Glor, John Dickerson, Erica Hill and Seth Doane at CBS.
According to the report, ABC News hired an executive coach for Fedida in 2016. The article claims that one confidential settlement with a former ABC News staffer involved racial discrimination allegations.
In a statement provided to Huffington Post by Fedida’s attorney, she said: “Throughout my career, I have been a champion for increased diversity in network news. Building a news division where everyone can thrive has been my life’s mission. I am proud of my decades of work of hiring, supporting and promoting talented journalists of color. And, unlike these heartbreaking and incredibly misleading claims about me, that track record is well-documented and undeniable.”
During Fedida’s tenure, ABC News hired Sunny Hostin to work on “The View” and placed Michael Strahan among the central trio of anchors who host “Good Morning America.” Eva Pilgrim, Marcus Moore and TJ Holmes are also among the people of color who have been given on-air assignments during her time in her role.
Prior to rejoining ABC in 2011, Fedida had worked for four years at CBS News, where she was vice president of talent and development. Prior to that job, she worked as a producer at ABC News and had roles in talent and standards and practices. As a producer, she reported and developed stories and specials on topics ranging from the Timothy McVeigh execution to Pope John Paul’s visit to Cuba, and has been involved in broadcasts that won Emmy and Peabody Awards. She won a duPont Award in 2002.