Some of the anchors on ABC News’ most popular programs have in recent days spent significant portions of on-air time covering an unorthodox topic: the inner workings of the company that employs them.
Hosts including “Good Morning America’s” weekend on air staff and “The View” co-host Sunny Hostin took to their shows on Sunday and Monday to discuss allegations raised in a Huffington Post article that claimed a senior ABC News executive, Barbara Fedida, made insensitive, sometimes racially tinged comments about several journalists of color at the Walt Disney-owned unit. ABC News placed the executive, who has overseen talent and career development at the news operation since 2011, on administrative leave following publication of the article, which detailed allegations of remarks made about such anchors as Hostin and Robin Roberts, along with former staffer Kendis Gibson.
Speaking Monday on “The View,” Hostin said she “was really disappointed and saddened and hurt when I learned about the racist comments that were made, allegedly, about me, my colleagues and my dear friends.” She added: “I look forward to the results of what I hear is going to be an independent, external investigation.”
ABC News said in a statement on Saturday: “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. 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.”
In an era when the nation has been grappling with matters of harassment, race and gender, TV news outlets have come under a microscope, with several high-profile anchors leaving their jobs after their behavior on screen or behind the camera spurred controversy or outrage. That in turn has prompted very public discussion of sensitive topics. At a different time, these discussions would not take place on air, but the adoption by viewers of social media and their ability to comment on the controversies in real time mean the networks need to attempt to add to the conversation – or risk becoming subsumed by it.
On Sunday’s broadcast of “Good Morning America,” anchors Harris, Eva Pilgrim and Whit Johnson covered the news about Fedida being placed on leave, and Harris told viewers, “We here at the desk also want to make something clear, which is that we express our respect and our affection for our friend and our colleague Robin Roberts,” they told viewers on Sunday morning.
Gibson over the weekend took note of the controversy. “I really enjoyed the show & people I worked with at ABC News. I look back at my time there fondly. I’m still surprised and disappointed by the reported remarks made about me by an exec there, if true, “he said. “My hope is, and always has been, for a more diverse industry.”
CBS News and NBC News have also worked their way through moments of reckoning.
When Megyn Kelly sparked controversy on her NBC News morning program in 2018 by talking about the use of blackface during Halloween, anchors on “Today,” including Al Roker and Craig Melvin criticized her choices on the day after the polarizing broadcast. “She’s a friend. She said something stupid. She said something indefensible,” said Melvin at the time, while Roker noted that “no good comes from it,”referring to a discussion about the use of blackface on a morning TV program. Kelly had apologized on air for her comments.
Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell gained reaction in 2017 when they appeared on “CBS This Morning” to discuss the ouster of their colleague, Charlie Rose, after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him. ““None of us ever thought we’d be sitting at this table in particular telling this story, but here we are,” said King at the time, while O”Donnell told viewers, “There is no excuse for this alleged behavior,” adding: “This has to end. This behavior is wrong, period.”