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ABC News exec put on leave over comments about Robin Roberts, other Black colleagues

Robin Roberts. of ABC's "Good Morning America." was the subject of alleged racist remarks.
Robin Roberts, co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” was allegedly the subject of racist remarks by ABC News executive Barbara Fedida.
(Donna Svennevik / Associated Press)

A top executive at ABC News has been put on administrative leave after a report that she used racist language in discussions about on-air talent at the network.

The Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, is investigating the behavior of Barbara Fedida, senior vice president of talent, editorial strategy and business development for the news division, after a HuffPost report that described a long history of Fedida making abusive comments in the workplace.

“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,” an ABC News representative said Saturday 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 de facto No. 2 at ABC News under its president, James Goldston. She has played a major role in developing and recruiting on-air talent at the network, which has the most-watched morning and evening news TV programs with “Good Morning America” and “ABC World News Tonight.”

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New York Times’ Opinion Editor James Bennet resigned, days after acknowledging that he hadn’t read Sen. Tom Cotton’s inflammatory op-ed.

The HuffPost story, which is based on interviews with more than two dozen anonymous sources, includes remarks Fedida allegedly made regarding Black on-air talent at ABC.

During haggling over a new contract for “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts, Fedida allegedly said the network was not asking Roberts to “pick cotton,” according to HuffPost. Roberts, the most popular on-air star on ABC News, is Black and grew up in the Deep South.

In a discussion about former ABC anchor Kendis Gibson, Fedida is described as saying ABC News “spends more on toilet paper than we ever would on him.”

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Gibson, who also is Black and now works at MSNBC, went on Twitter to say he was “surprised and disappointed” by Fedida’s alleged comments.

The story also alleges that the company has given confidential settlements to employees who have complained about Fedida, who has been in her current role at ABC News since 2011. She started her career at ABC News in 1989, leaving in 2006 for a five-year stint overseeing talent development at CBS News.

Fedida responded to the HuffPost report with a statement released by her lawyer.

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For the first time, the WGA West published an open letter from its membership — a call from its Committee of Black Writers for change in Hollywood.

“Throughout my career, I have been a champion for increased diversity in network news,” the statement said. “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.”

Fedida is the latest media executive to come under fire over conduct or comments related to diversity and equal treatment in the workplace. Executives at Condé Nast magazine Bon Appétit, the trade publication Variety and website Refinery29 have exited or been placed on leave from their jobs as a result.

The scrutiny follows the protests over George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died May 25 on a Minneapolis street after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. Along with demonstrations, Floyd’s death has set off a wave of in-depth reflection on race relations in the U.S.

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In response to the nation’s reaction to Floyd’s death, Disney has committed $5 million in contributions to social justice organizations.


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