‘To Say That She’s An Abusive Figure Is An Understatement’: At ABC News, Toxicity Thrives

(Photo: Illustration: HuffPost Visuals; Photo: Getty)
In 2018, ABC Fed's talented executive Barbara Fedida sat in a meeting with colleagues and discussed intensive contract negotiations with Robin Roberts, one of ABC's biggest stars, the "Good Morning America" ​​anchor.
Roberts, a black woman who has had Good Morning America since 2005, wanted more money through a contract extension, and Fedida felt that Roberts had gotten enough. Fedida then asked what Roberts could want more and said it was not like the network was asking Roberts to "pick cotton," a source that was in the room and witnessed the exchange. Two other sources, which were not present, but were informed of the incident shortly afterwards, confirmed the report to HuffPost.
This remark is part of a long pattern of insensitive statements, including racist comments, that Fedida has made to those who report to it, sources said who spoke to HuffPost. Fedida has been the subject of more than a dozen staff complaints and was the subject of a staff survey in 2016 that prompted ABC News to hire an executive coach for her. ABC News officials who knew about the investigation told HuffPost they were stunned that it did not end with their release.
Fedida, who worked under two ABC News presidents, Ben Sherwood and now James Goldston, helped create such a toxic environment that several former employees and talents told HuffPost that when they left the network, they felt as if they were leaving an abusive marriage.
Two years after Fedida reportedly made the racist comment on Roberts, Fedida remains in power at ABC News. According to sources, her alleged misconduct has prompted the network to spend millions of dollars on confidential comparisons with former talent and employees, including at least one comparison of allegations of racial discrimination.
According to sources who spoke to HuffPost, Fedida's impact on the news department was devastating. Key talents and executives have left or been displaced, and all sources who spoke to HuffPost said their behavior had an adverse effect on ABC News reporting.
"To say that she is an abusive character is an understatement," said a former ABC News employee.
Fedida said regarding ABC's Kendis Gibson, who is black and was an ABC news anchor at the time, "ABC spends more on toilet paper than ever," a source Fedida heard the comment say to HuffPost.
ABC News replied to a list of 28 fact-checking questions: “There are deeply worrying allegations in this story that we need to investigate, and we've put Barbara Fedida on administrative leave while we do a thorough and thorough investigation. These claims do not reflect ABC News' values ​​and culture, in which we strive to ensure that everyone feels respected in a thriving, diverse, and inclusive workplace. "
This story is based on interviews with 34 sources over a six month period. The sources are current and former ABC News employees and talents, as well as other sources with knowledge of Fedida's behavior and the inside of ABC News.
None of the sources was willing to speak in the file, either because they had signed nondisclosure agreements with ABC News, feared reprisals from Fedida or other ABC News executives, or were not allowed to speak to press members in the file without prior notice.
In a statement from her lawyer, Fedida said: “Throughout my career, I have been an advocate of the increasing diversity of network news. Building a news department where everyone can thrive was my life's work. I am proud of my decades of work hiring, supporting and promoting talented color journalists. And unlike these heartbreaking and incredibly misleading claims about me, this track record is well documented and undeniable. "
A talent executive with exceptional strength
Fedida's title at ABC News is Senior Vice President, Talent and Business. As part of her work at ABC, she oversees the network's efforts for diversity and inclusion. Fedida's career began in 1989 at ABC News, where she worked as a production assistant for the legendary anchor Peter Jennings. Fedida held various producer roles until 2001 when she was named Director of Standards and Practices and then Director of Talent Recruitment and Development.
In 2006, she left ABC News for CBS News, where she initially served as Executive Director of Talent and was then promoted to Vice President of Talent and Development. In 2011 she left CBS News and returned to ABC News.
Typically, a talent manager in a network news department is responsible for finding new talent and developing and working with the network's current talent.
Fedida does all of this at ABC News, but her role and influence go far beyond that. She is essentially a Goldston representative and has been tasked to be an executor and to deal with all the difficult questions that he does not want to deal with. She held a similar position with Ben Sherwood when he was responsible for the news department.
"There were many things that James and Ben didn't want to deal with, and Barbara was always ready to deal with it," a former ABC News employee told HuffPost. And with that, according to sources, she made herself priceless.
Fedida would also openly refer to women as "pussies" in the office, according to several employees who personally heard her use the word.
Fedida is essentially a problem solver that helps make uncomfortable situations go away. And every source who spoke to HuffPost said that this was how she stayed in power, despite engaging in behavior that would normally oust any other manager.
Fedida has excelled in part at ABC through an important ally, Tanya Menton, who has worked for Walt Disney Co. (the parent company of ABC News) for over two decades and is currently the vice president of litigation. Menton has been involved in settlement negotiations with Fedida and other ABC News executives and, according to three sources, has personally handled the response to some of the staff complaints about Fedida's behavior.
Inappropriate comments and questions
At a company dinner held after a series of mass shootings in the United States, Fedida asked the attendees, who told everyone who they thought would be the most likely ABC News employee to be an active shooter in the building. Sources who attended the event reported HuffPost. Fedida has been the subject of HR complaints for the offensive question.
Fedida would also openly refer to women as "pussies" in the office, according to several employees who personally heard her use the word.
Fedida said regarding ABC's Kendis Gibson, who is black and was an ABC news anchor at the time, "ABC spends more on toilet paper than ever," a source Fedida heard the comment say to HuffPost. Another source was informed of the comment after the meeting. Gibson is now an anchor at MSNBC.
"The Black Manifesto"
In more than a dozen interviews, sources who spoke to HuffPost said that despite monitoring ABC's efforts for diversity and inclusion, Fedida appeared to be clearly reluctant to the efforts and often developed animus towards employees or talent who tried to develop for the efforts to be made, including the staff. She was responsible for enhancing diversity and inclusion.
According to five sources, Fedida has shown little interest in the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), although diversity and inclusion are important components of its role in the network.
Network executives and talents attend the annual NABJ meeting and stand at stands to network and talk to young black journalists about possible recruitment efforts and mentoring. Fedida has rarely performed at the NABJ Congress, which is a major departure from what her peers are doing on other networks. At NBC News, for example, top talents take part in the NABJ conference every year and sit on the stand to criticize weekly news and provide advice. The NBC News talent chief has missed only two NABJ conventions in 30 years, according to a source familiar with her participation.
A source told HuffPost that ABC managers called this letter "the black manifesto". Fedida used the phrase when she spoke about the document, according to a source that heard her say it directly.
One situation in which Fedida actively sabotaged ABC's diversity efforts was her militant relationship with a group of black journalists who worked to increase network inclusiveness. The chief organizer of the group was Mara Schiavocampo, an ABC correspondent.
The group met in summer 2016. ABC News was preparing to hold a town hall on race relations with then-President Barack Obama. Interviews with US presidents are important news events and the networks prepare them very well. As a rule, the interviewer - in this case the anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight", David Muir, who is white - and the employees meet regularly to plan questions.
None of the employees who were originally involved in the planning process were black, according to several sources he was familiar with, which prompted black journalists at ABC News to organize the advocacy.
According to several sources, the group held conference calls and compiled a detailed letter to Goldston. The goals were relatively modest, including having a high-ranking black producer on every show and interviewing a black candidate for every vacancy.
Somehow Goldston and Fedida noticed the letter. A source told HuffPost that ABC managers called this letter "the black manifesto". Fedida used the phrase when she spoke about the document, according to a source that heard her say it directly.
What followed was a meeting with Goldston and the group, which several sources described as tense. Robin Roberts was directly involved in all meetings, a rarity for an anchor of her stature.
In a second meeting with Goldston, Roberts, who was visibly angry, said when Goldston Roberts said that colleagues are pushing back some of the suggestions: "Do you carry torches and sing 'You won't replace us?'" Renaud Camus, the French philosopher and writer of the white supremacists, has put forward the theory of "great substitution" that mass migration of Muslims would replace white Europeans.
Roberts also went through a list of black candidates she presented to ABC News to review various roles. She added that ABC News did not take the candidates seriously despite the fact that they were qualified, according to two sources that were in the room. Roberts said the candidates were looking for work elsewhere, sources said.
In a statement, ABC News said: “James and Barbara welcomed the opportunity to hear from this group and to meet with them regularly. These talks have led to positive changes in the news department. "
Despite all the advances that may have been made, the group of black journalists at ABC News gathered last Thursday for a conference call with Goldston and Fedida to discuss their frustration with the response to the police's efforts and the efforts of George Floyd ABC to express inclusion of black candidates for positions within the network, so two sources who phoned and another source who later heard about it.
“My personal experience with Barbara Fedida is that she is not racist. I know what racism looks like, smells and sounds like. Barbara Fedida is not one of those things. But I respect other colleagues who have had a different experience, ”Byron Pitts, a Black ABC news anchor, told HuffPost.
In 2016, Schiavocampo, as head of this group Fedida, had set a goal on his back. Soon, several sources said, Fedida made derogatory comments about Schiavocampo behind her back.
In February 2017, ABC News decided not to renew the contract with Schiavocampo. But Schiavocampo only found out the decision in July 2017. After she was told, she was taken out of thin air, although her contract didn't expire until 2018.
Schiavocampo, through her lawyers, filed a legal claim with ABC News, alleging the racial discrimination committed by Fedida.
The network gave Schiavocampo a financial settlement. As part of the contract, Schiavocampo signed a nondisclosure agreement.
When Schiavocampo was reached by phone, he declined to comment.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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