Top ABC News executive placed on leave amid allegations of racially insensitive comments

Claire Atkinson

ABC News has placed one of its top executives on administrative leave, the network confirmed Monday, as accusations of racial prejudice continue to roil the top echelons of the media industry in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

The network, which is owned by Disney, said Sunday that it had launched an investigation into Barbara Fedida, ABC News' senior vice president of talent and business affairs, after she was alleged to have made insensitive comments. Fedida's job involves negotiating multimillion-dollar long-term agreements with television anchors and top producers.

Fedida is accused of having quipped during contract negotiations regarding "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts that ABC was not asking Roberts to "pick cotton," an allusion to slavery. Roberts is Black.

In response to the detailed allegations, first reported by HuffPost, ABC News said: "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 workspace," the statement continued.

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In a statement obtained by NBC News, Fedida said: "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 was also responsible for diversity initiatives at the Disney-owned news division.

ABC is the latest media organization to be embroiled in a racial reckoning. Just last week, the network axed a reality show that featured Jessica Mulroney — daughter-in-law of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and a close friend of Meghan Markle's — after she was accused of having threatened a Black Instagram influencer, Sasha Exeter.

Mulroney apologized publicly on her Instagram account, writing that Exeter "rightfully called me out for not doing enough when it came to engaging in the important and difficult conversation around race and injustice in our society."

On Monday, NPR reported that the Los Angeles Times had just one Black reporter on a staff of nearly 90 on its metro desk. Earlier this month, The New York Times announced that Editorial Page Editor James Bennet had resigned after his department published a widely criticized opinion article written by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., that called for a military response to protests.

Less than 24 hours after that, Bon Appétit and Vice's Refinery29 both separated with top editors following complaints from Black employees about leadership.

Adam Rapoport resigned from Bon Appétit over a photo of him in brownface. In a statement, Rapoport said he needed "to reflect on the work that I need to do as a human being."

"I have not championed an inclusive vision, and ultimately, it's been at the expense of Bon Appétit and its staff, as well as our readers," he said.

Refinery29's editor and co-founder, Christene Barberich, quit after employees alleged discrimination. Barberich said in a statement, "We have to do better, and that starts with making room."

CORRECTION (June 15, 2020, 8 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article mischaracterized an NPR report on racial diversity at the Los Angeles Times. NPR reported that the Times has only one Black reporter on its metro desk, not that it has only one Black person on its metro staff. It reported that the Times also has a Black metro editor and a Black metro columnist.