NBC and CBS have recently grappled with sexual and verbal harassment by executives toward lower-level staffers, and now the third major broadcaster, ABC, is having to deal with its own allegations of verbal abuse by one of its executives directed at numerous talent and other staffers.
HuffPost reporter Yashar Ali published a report today concerning abusive behavior by ABC News’ talent svp Barbara Fedida toward ABC News talent. Ali’s story cites 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 news division staffers during her tenure.
None of the sources were willing to speak to HuffPost on the record, either because they had signed NDAs with ABC News, “or because they feared reprisal from Fedida or other top ABC News executives, or were not allowed to speak with members of the press on the record without prior authorization.”
Fedida currently reports to ABC News president James Goldston.
One of the most troubling allegations cited in the story is a remark Fedida made when she was involved in contract negotiations with GMA co-anchor Robin Roberts. When Fedida and her colleagues were discussing how Roberts wanted more money as a part of her contract renewal, the report claims Fedida said it wasn’t as if ABC was asking her to “pick cotton.”
Two years after Fedida allegedly made the racist comment about Roberts, Fedida remains in power at ABC News, where sources say her alleged misconduct has led the network to spend millions of dollars in confidential settlements with former talent and staff, including at least one settlement related to allegations of racial discrimination.
Fedida’s impact on the news division has been devastating, according to the sources who spoke to HuffPost. Key talent and executives have left or been forced out, and all the sources who spoke to HuffPost said her behavior has had a detrimental effect on ABC News reporting.
“To say that she’s an abusive figure is an understatement,” said one former ABC News employee.
In another incident, Fedida reportedly asked attendees at a company lunch held following mass shooting incidents in the U.S. which ABC News staffer would be most likely to be an active shooter. Some employees filed complaints with HR, according to the HuffPo report.
ABC News allegedly hired an executive coach for Fedida in 2016, and one confidential settlement with a former ABC News staffer involved racial discrimination allegations.
A network spokesperson provided TVNewser with the following statement concerning this HuffPost report: “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.”
Nightline co-anchor Byron Pitts, who is Black, has never noticed racist behavior exhibited by Fedida in his presence, telling HuffPo, “My personal experience with Barbara Fedida is that she is not racist. I know what racism looks, smells and sounds like. Barbara Fedida is not any of those things. But I am respectful of other colleagues who have had a different experience.”
Fedida has worked for ABC News semi-continuously for 30 years. She started out in 1989 as a production associate for Peter Jennings Reporting. She remained with ABC for 17 years where she held positions including talent recruitment and development director, director of standards and practices and as a producer for several ABC News programs including Day One and World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.
Fedida was one of a handful of producers who worked on the Peter Jennings tribute special in August 2005.
Then-CBS News president Sean McManus lured Fedida to CBS News in 2006 to become executive director of talent. She was promoted to vp of talent in 2008 and would go on recruit talent to CBS News, including correspondents Terry McCarthy and Nancy Cordes from ABC, Erica Hill, Seth Doane and Elaine Quijano from CNN, and John Dickerson. Fedida departed CBS News in February 2011 amid an executive shuffle.
Two months later, then-ABC News president Ben Sherwood brought Fedida back to ABC as svp of talent and business. Sherwood had assumed the position just four months earlier.
As ABC News’ svp of talent and business, Fedida has hired and worked closely with many ABC Newsers you see on your television today, including Tom Llamas and Ginger Zee. She also placed Sunny Hostin on The View and Michael Strahan on GMA. Eva Pilgrim, Marcus Moore and TJ Holmes are also among the Black journalists who have been given on-air roles during Fedida’s second stint at ABC.
Fedida’s attorney provided HuffPo with the following statement: “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.”