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ABC News won’t hire outside investigator for sexual assault scandal

Kim Godwin
Kim Godwin, president of ABC News, had said on a call with newsroom employees that she wanted an independent investigation into allegations against a former employee.
(Heidi Gutman / ABC)

ABC News staff has been told there will be no outside investigation into the company’s handling of sexual assault allegations against former “Good Morning America” senior producer Michael Corn.

Two people familiar with internal discussions at the Walt Disney Co. division confirmed a report in the Wall Street Journal that current “GMA” executive producer Simone Swink told employees earlier this week that a probe is not happening, despite previous comments by ABC News President Kim Godwin calling for one.

A lawsuit filed Aug. 25 by “GMA” producer Kirstyn Crawford accuses Corn of sexually assaulting her during a business trip to Los Angeles in 2015. The suit also depicts another alleged incident involving Jill McClain, a woman who worked for him while he oversaw “ABC World News.”

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Corn, who is now the president of news for Nexstar Media Group’s NewsNation channel, has denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

After the suit was reported, Godwin said on a call with newsroom employees that she wanted an independent investigation into the matter.

But Disney’s only public statement has been that the company disputes the lawsuit’s claims and plans to address the matter in court.

Based on Swink’s remarks, the company has apparently decided to let the legal process play out before taking any internal action.

Division president Kim Godwin, brought in to improve the culture, faces her first challenge.

A representative for ABC News declined comment on the “GMA” meeting and the previous statement by Godwin, who joined the company in May after a long career at CBS.

According to the people familiar with Swink’s remarks, Peter Rice, chairman of general entertainment content for Disney, told her and Godwin that he cannot call for an outside investigation of the company. Godwin’s division reports to Rice.

The suit, which names Corn and ABC as defendants, alleges that three network news executives failed to act after learning of Crawford’s issues with Corn in late 2017.

ABC conducted an internal investigation into Crawford and McClain’s allegations after they made a formal complaint in February, according to the lawsuit, and terminated Corn in April. The company never gave a reason for Corn’s departure.

Disney is taking a different tack than some of the other media companies that have faced sexual harassment scandals in the #MeToo era.

During Godwin’s tenure at CBS, the company hired law firm Proskauer Rose to investigate reports of sexual harassment allegations against news anchor Charile Rose, who was fired in November 2017.

When Fox News was hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2016 by former anchor Gretchen Carlson, the company brought in law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to look into allegations against its founding chief executive, Roger Ailes, who was ousted. Carlson settled her suit with Fox News for $20 million.

Paul, Weiss also investigated harassment claims against former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, who departed the network in April 2017.


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