Walt Disney’s ABC News suspends top executive over allegations of racist comments

(Reuters) - Walt Disney Co’s DIS.N ABC News has placed on leave one of its top executives, Barbara Fedida, while it investigates press reports that she made racist comments, among other inappropriate behavior, according to the network.

On Saturday HuffPost published an article here alleging that Fedida, the network’s senior vice president for talent, editorial strategy and business affairs, has a long history of making insensitive comments and has been the subject of more than a dozen human resources complaints. Fedida denied the allegations, which she described as "incredibly misleading."

In one incident, the article described a 2018 discussion about news anchor Robin Roberts’ contract negotiations. Fedida allegedly said of Roberts, who is black, that it was not as if the company was asking her to “pick cotton.”

Sources told HuffPost that as a result of Fedida’s alleged misconduct, ABC News has spent millions of dollars in confidential settlements with former talent and staff, including at least one settlement related to allegations of racial discrimination.

“Throughout my career, I have been a champion for increased diversity in network news,” Fedida said in a statement. “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.”

In a Monday email to staff, Disney executive Peter Rice, who oversees ABC News, said “You can be assured that once this investigation is concluded, we will take whatever actions are necessary.”

ABC News said in a statement: “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 workplace.”

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, other media outlets from the New York Times to Refinery29 and Bon Appetit are also facing criticism over how they have handled the issue of race.

Reporting by Helen Coster; Editing by David Gregorio