Top ABC News Executive Barbara Fedida Will Not Return After Investigation Of Claims Of Racially Insensitive Remarks

ABC News
ABC News

UPDATED, with comment from NABJ: A top news division talent and business affairs executive is out at ABC News following an investigation that she made racially insensitive remarks. The network also announced plans to restructure her position.

In an email to the staff obtained by Deadline, Peter Rice, the chairman of Walt Disney Television and co-chair of Disney Media Networks, wrote that Barbara Fedida would not be returning to the company after her suspension last month. He wrote that “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.”

Fedida was senior vice president of talent, editorial strategy and business affairs for the network, and, among other duties, she oversaw newsroom inclusion and was responsible for hiring and developing network anchors and correspondents.

Rice wrote that 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.”

“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,” Rice wrote.

Yashar Ali, in a story in HuffPost, reported that Fedida’s alleged misconduct led the network to spend millions of dollars in confidential settlements with former talent and staff. That included at least one settlement related to allegations of racial discrimination.

Ali wrote that he based his story on interviews with 34 sources over six months. His story reported on one instance in 2018, when Fedida was sitting with colleagues discussing contract negotiations with Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts, and “then asked what more Roberts could want and said it wasn’t as if the network was asking Roberts to ‘pick cotton.'” Ali cited one unnamed source who was in the room and two others who were not present but told about it soon after.

Ali also reported that Fedida was the subject of more than a dozen Human Resources complaints and a Human Resources investigation in 2016 that led the network to hire an executive coach for her.

After the HuffPost story and Fedida’s suspension, the National Association of Black Journalists called for a meeting with top executives at the network and its parent, the Walt Disney Co., as well as for the investigation’s findings to be made public. Late Monday, NABJ issued a statement saying that they were “pleased” with the action, but they are still calling for an African-American to be put in charge of the network’s diversity in hiring program and an outside consultant to assess the culture and work environment at the news division. They also want “immediate redress for those who were wronged by” Fedida.

In his note to employees, Rice wrote that “given the manner in which Ms. Fedida wielded the power of her position, we’ve made a determination that the position needs to be restructured. Going forward, business affairs will be a separate function from talent relations and recruitment, each with its own leader.”

“Second, we understand that there is serious work that needs to be done to enhance the culture of inclusion and make further progress on our goal of attracting, fostering and retaining diverse talent,” Rice wrote. “We will provide more details about these initiatives later this week.”

In a statement her attorney gave to HuffPost at the time, Fedida 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.”

Fedida reported to ABC News president James Goldston and also worked under Goldston’s predecessor, Ben Sherwood. She has been with the network since 2011, having previously worked as vice president of talent and development for CBS News.

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