Top ABC News executive Barbara Fedida to leave after probe into 'racially insensitive comments'

During contract negotiations regarding "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts, Fedida is accused of having said ABC was not asking Roberts to "pick cotton," an allusion to slavery.

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/ Source: Variety
By Variety

ABC News executive Barbara Fedida will not return to the Disney-owned unit following an investigation into allegations of insensitive behavior and her treatment of employees, the company confirmed to NBC News.

Staffers were notified of the matter Monday in a memo from Peter Rice, chairman of Walt Disney Television. "The investigation substantiated that Ms. Fedida did make some of the unacceptable racially insensitive comments attributed to her. It also substantiated that Ms. Fedida managed in a rough manner and, on occasion, used crass and inappropriate language," Rice said. "Lastly, the investigation found no basis for the claims that Ms. Fedida was the subject of dozens of HR complaints and that ABC News spent millions of dollars in confidential settlements related to Ms. Fedida, as alleged in some press accounts."

In June, a report by The Huffington Post, citing interviews with 34 sources, raised allegations of a series of insensitive comments by Fedida, often with racial remarks made in front of staffers. Fedida, an award-winning producer, joined ABC News in 2011 as senior vice president for talent and business. As part of that role, she had a strong influence in determining whom 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 former ABC News President Ben Sherwood and other senior ABC News executives. She most recently reported to ABC News President James Goldston.

ABC News had placed Fedida on administrative leave while an external law firm probed claims raised by the article.

Fedida is the latest media executive to come under scrutiny while the industry grapples with fallout from recent protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

"Although Ms. Fedida made contributions to the organization over the 20-year span of her career, in light of the overall findings, we have determined that she can no longer serve in a leadership role and will not be returning to ABC News," Rice said.

Disney intends to restructure Fedida's role, he added, with ABC News business affairs being managed separately from talent relations and recruitment. He also said ABC News needed to "enhance the culture of inclusion and make further progress on our goal of attracting, fostering and retaining diverse talent. We will provide more details about these initiatives later this week."

In TV-news circles, Fedida played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role, and her hiring decisions could help catapult careers. Over her years at ABC News and CBS News, she was 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.

Fedida was the latest media executive to come under scrutiny while the industry grapples with 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. Condé Nast and Vice are among the media companies who have negotiated through staffers' allegations about the behavior of top executives toward people of color.

Fedida reportedly asked attendees at a company lunch held following mass shooting incidents in the U.S. which ABC News employee would most likely be an active shooter.

Among the claims raised in the Huffington Post story was a remark made when Fedida was involved in negotiations with "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts' contract. When Fedida and her colleagues were discussing how Roberts wanted more money as a part of her contract renewal, the report allegesd Fedida said it wasn't as if ABC was asking the anchor 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 most likely be an active shooter.

In a statement provided to Huffington Post by Fedida's attorney at the time of its initial report, 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."