Jun 14, 2020 - Economy & Business

ABC News probes claims executive made racist comments about black staff

Robin Roberts arrives at the CoachArt Gala of Champions held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 17, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.

Robin Roberts, pictured at a Beverly Hills event in 2013, was allegedly a target of discrimination from top ABC News executive Barbara Fedida, who's called the claims "misleading." Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic

A top ABC News executive was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation Saturday following a HuffPost report alleging she's used racist language about "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts and other black staff.

Why it matters: Barbara Fedida oversees hiring and diversity programs. The report also accuses Fedida of "enabling a "toxic" and "abusive" work environment. Fedida "wielded arguably the most power at the network in determining the fates of Black employees in terms of hiring and contracts," per a statement from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).

  • HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali reports that Fedida allegedly said during 2018 contract negotiations after Roberts, a black woman, asked for more money that it wasn't as if the network were asking the anchor to "pick cotton."

Other allegations: Ali reports that he found after speaking with 34 sources over six months that he found "a long pattern of insensitive statements, including racist comments, made by Fedida to people who report to her."

  • Per the report, Fedida allegedly "actively sabotaged diversity efforts" after black ABC staffers noted that a planned 2016 town hall event with then-President Barack Obama that focused on race relations featured an all-white planning committee, with no people of color moderating.
  • "Sources told the HuffPost that Fedida and ABC executives dismissed a letter from black staffers as a "Black manifesto," Ali reports.

What they're saying: ABC News said in a statement to news outlets including Axios that the allegations were "disturbing," confirming that Fedida was put 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," the statement added.
  • The NABJ said ABC News and its owner Disney must "immediately launch a transparent, external investigation led by a diverse law firm to examine all of the allegations detailed in the report," with the findings published and broadcast. It added that confidentiality agreements with black employees should be suspended. 

The other side: Fedida said in a statement to HuffPost via her attorney that she had been a "champion for increased diversity in network news."

  • "Building a news division where everyone can thrive has been my life’s mission," the statement continued.
  • "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."
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