Barbara Fedida, the senior vice president for talent and business at ABC News, was fired according to multiple news reports. The company announced her exit to its employees July 20 and her firing comes roughly a month after Huffington Post reporter Yashar Ali wrote an article about her alleging that employees saw her as an abusive and toxic figure at the company.
Ali broke the news in a tweet late Monday afternoon:
In his tweet thread, Ali wrote, “In an email sent to ABC News employees, Peter Rice, Chairman of Walt Disney Television as well as the co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, says ‘The investigation substantiated that Ms. Fedida did make some of the unacceptable racially insensitive comments attributed to her.'”
He also wrote, “In his email to ABC News employees, Peter Rice goes on to say: ‘[The investigation] also substantiated that Ms. Fedida managed in a rough manner and, on occasion, used crass and inappropriate language.'”
ABC News had already placed Fedida on leave to investigate allegations of racist comments raised in Ali’s HuffPost report; that investigation was led by Disney general counsel Alan Braverman and an “outside law firm,” according to the Daily News.
This is Rice’s official statement on Fedida’s status with the company, as Variety reported it: “Although Ms. Fedida made contributions to the organization over the 20-year span of her career, 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.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Ali Reported That Fedida Spoke Disparagingly Of Multiple Black Reporters Who Sought Raises
One of Fedida’s alleged racist comments occurred during contract negotiations and was directed at one of the network’s biggest stars in Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts. Fedida allegedly made the comment as Roberts was seeking more money in 2018 for her role as co-anchor, a title she had held for 13 years. According to Ali’s report, “Fedida then asked what more Roberts could want and said it wasn’t as if the network was asking Roberts to ‘pick cotton,’ according to one source who was in the room and witnessed the exchange.”
Essence reported that Roberts wasn’t the only Black reporter targeted by Fedida: “Her ire was also aimed at anchor Kendis Gibson, allegedly saying that the network “spends more on toilet paper than we ever would on him,” the magazine reported.
The Hill reported that Fedida allegedly also referred to “The View” co-host and legal analyst Sunny Hostin as “low-rent; Hostin is Puerto Rican and African American. On “The View,” Hostin said she was “disappointed and saddened and hurt” by the news of Fedida’s alleged comments but not surprised:
It was a tough weekend for me and I was really disappointed and saddened and hurt when I learned about the racist comments that were made allegedly about me my colleagues and my dear friends, because if true … [it] tells me that systemic racism touches everything and everyone in our society regardless of social status. No one is immune.
2. Fedida Held A Lot Of Power At ABC News, According To Variety
Fedida, Variety reported, was an award-winning producer and who became the senior vice president for talent and business at ABC News in 2011. Before that, she started her career out as a staffer in 1989, working for Peter Jennings, the Daily News reported, and she left in 2005 to become an executive at CBS News before eventually returning to ABC News.
According to Variety, “In TV-news circles, Fedida played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role, and her hiring decisions could help catapult careers. Over her years at ABC News and CBS News, she was integral in the recruiting and hiring of well-known correspondents and anchors including Tom Llamas, Sara Haines, Meghan McCain and Ginger Zee at ABC, and Jeff Glor, John Dickerson, Erica Hill and Seth Doane at CBS.” The magazine also reported that she held influence over other top executives, “acting as a lieutenant” to Ben Sherwood, the previous ABC News president and reporting in the role she was fired from directly to the current ABC News president, James Goldston.
In addition to those roles, the HuffPost report noted that she was also responsible for the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. According to the Daily News, “The former CBS News executive allegedly was heard by staffers openly using the c-word and also accused of having been actively trying to dismantle diversity and inclusion efforts that were a significant part of her job description.”
Ali tweeted that in Rice’s email to his employees, Rice announced that he would be splitting Fedida’s former job title, stating “… 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.”
3. The HuffPost Report Alleged That Fedida Was Consistently ‘Abusive’
In addition to the derogatory comments Fedida allegedly made about Black reporters, Variety reported that she also made an insensitive remark regarding mass shooters: “In another incident, Fedida reportedly asked attendees at a company lunch held following mass shooting incidents in the U.S. which ABC News employee would be most likely to be an active shooter.”
According to Ali’s reporting, Fedida also “would refer to women as ‘c***s’ openly in the office.”
Ali wrote in his Huffington Post article that one former ABC news employee said, “To say that she’s an abusive figure is an understatement.” He also wrote that HR received so many complaints about Fedida, employees at the company were surprised that she was still worked there:
Fedida has been the subject of more than a dozen human resources complaints and was the subject of a human resources investigation in 2016 that led ABC News to hire an executive coach for her, sources said … Staffers at ABC News who knew about the investigation told HuffPost they were stunned that it did not end in her dismissal.
Ali said that he spoke to 34 current and former ABC News staff and talent, as well as others “with knowledge of Fedida’s conduct and of the inner workings of ABC News.”
4. Ali Alleged That Fedida’s Behavior Resulted In A Settlement
Ali reported that Fedida’s behavior resulted in ABC News settling with Mara Schiavocampo, an ABC correspondent who Ali described as being “chief among the organizers” of “a group of Black journalists who organized to advocate for more inclusivity at the network.”
According to Ali, the group asked that Black journalists be part of the team for a 2016 town hall with then-President Barack Obama about race relations because, according to Ali, “None of the staffers initially involved in the planning process were Black, according to multiple sources familiar with it.” The group held conference calls and sent a letter to Sherwood, Goldston and management making a number of requests (such as, that at least one senior producer at each of ABC News’ various shows be Black, that multiple “acting” Black co-anchors given the title of official co-anchors and that a Black candidate be interviewed for every job opening).
We come to you as one of the largest groups of black on-air talent in ABC News history, a fact that not only makes the news division stronger, but also reflects the growing diversity in our audience…
While we recognize our numbers in front of the camera, we are frustrated, demoralized, and angered by the lack of black voices in our newsrooms … The lack of African-American representation in key editorial positions is not only unacceptable, it is also bad for the news division, as is often painfully clear in our coverage. Most recently, we felt that the network’s town hall on race with President Obama failed completely in its effort to foster a meaningful dialogue on issues of race, a senior-level black person been involved in a special about black people, the outcome certainly would have been different.
You can read the full letter here.
Ali said Fedida often referred to the letter as “the Black manifesto” and tense meetings, at which Robin Roberts was present, took place. He also alleged that Fedida was upset with Schiavocampo’s activities in the group and, “Soon, multiple sources said, Fedida started making disparaging comments about Schiavocampo behind her back.” In February 2017, Ali alleged that ABC News didn’t renew Schiavocampo’s contract, didn’t tell her until July 2017 and pulled her from the air even though her contract didn’t expire until 2018. Ali said that when lawyers for Schiavocampo notified ABC News that they might pursue allegations of racial discrimination due to Fedida’s behavior, the network provided her with a settlement as well as a “nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreement.”
5. Fedida Has Called Herself A ‘Champion For Increased Diversity’
Fedida responded to the allegations through her lawyer with a 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.
Byron Pitts, a Black anchor at ABC News, told HuffPost that he had no personal experience of Fedida being a racist, but he said that he was “respectful of other colleagues who have had a different experience.”
Fedida is hardly the most high-profile senior executive to be fired over allegations of racism and abusive management; Nancy Lublin, the CEO of Crisis Text Line, was fired June 13.