Disney faces pressure from within to conduct outside probe of ABC News’ handling of sex harassment claims
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Disney is under pressure from within to conduct a thorough, independent investigation of how ABC News handled allegations of sexual harassment against a former executive after a lawsuit accused management of turning a blind eye to complaints by a female staffer.
“Disney must not only hire an outside law firm to investigate the malfeasance at ABC News but they must also release the results to the public,” an ABC News insider told Fox News on the condition of anonymity.
Disney is under pressure from within to conduct a thorough, independent investigation of how ABC News handled allegations of sexual harassment (REUTERS/Aly Song)
(REUTERS/Aly Song/Photo Illustration)
A lawsuit filed this week by ABC News producer Kirstyn Crawford, 31, accuses former “Good Morning America” executive producer Michael Corn of sexual assault, which he has strongly denied. The lawsuit also names ABC as a defendant, alleging the Disney-owned company failed to act after receiving complaints about the former “GMA” executive producer.
The lawsuit claimed ABC “did nothing to protect Plaintiff or remove Corn from his position of power.” The suit claims Crawford told star anchor George Stephanopoulos and other executives about the alleged harassment but no action was taken. Stephanopoulos continued to work directly with Corn for four years after allegedly being informed of Crawford’s harassment claim.
“If [Disney executive] Peter Rice is actually serious about cleaning up the culture there, he must be ready to clean house should the investigation reveal yet another craven cover-up,” the insider added.
ABC News President Kim Godwin has reportedly called for Disney to do just that, but it’s unclear if ABC’s parent company will listen.
Godwin, who took over as president of ABC News in April, has been tasked with cleaning up what was largely considered a toxic workplace culture under previous boss James Goldston. The New York Post reported earlier this year that Rice was “so focused on finding a replacement to fix the culture that he often spent the bulk of his interviews with job candidates talking about it” before ultimately hiring Godwin.
Now that Godwin is in charge, she reportedly wants to get to the bottom of the previous regime’s handling of allegations against Corn.
“Godwin told staffers on a conference call Thursday that she has requested an independent investigation into how the network handled allegations of sexual assault against the former executive producer of ‘Good Morning America,’” The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
“We can’t have us investigating us. We need an independent person,” Godwin reportedly continued. “The process has to be independent.”
Disney did not immediately respond when asked if the company will enlist an outside investigator.
An explosive lawsuit claims ABC News star George Stephanopoulos was aware that a top producer was accused of sexual harassment.
Godwin’s call for an independent probe are a far cry from what occurred at rival network NBC when Peacock Network honchos refused a thorough investigation at the height of the #MeToo movement.
Comcast chairman Brian Roberts and then-NBC News chairman Andy Lack famously rejected calls for an outside investigation into sexual harassment at NBC News, including who knew about former “Today” host Matt Lauer’s behavior.
NBC News was long accused of botching a variety of sexual misconduct issues, ranging from a claim that Ronan Farrow’s investigation into movie mogul Harvey Weinstein wasn’t fit to air to insisting the investigation into Lauer be piloted by fellow NBC executives instead of an outside entity.
Instead of enlisting a top, outside law firm – as other news organizations dealing with internal sex harassment issues, including Fox News had done – NBC allowed in-house General Counsel Kim Harris to conduct the review.
Former NBC News chairman Andy Lack came under fire for refusing to enlist an outside law firm to investigate internal sex harassment issues.
Harris’ internal review eventually declared that her NBC colleagues were completely oblivious to Lauer’s lewd behavior. The results of the NBC review were mocked by media watchdogs and NBC employees alike, while former NBC News star Ann Curry declared she did not participate despite telling the Washington Post she had complained to senior executives about Lauer.
The debacle loomed over Lack until he left the company last year.
While it’s unclear if Disney will conduct an outside probe or refuse like Lack did, ABC has denied the claims laid out in Crawford’s suit and plans to address them in court.
“We are committed to upholding a safe and supportive work environment and have a process in place that thoroughly reviews and addresses complaints that are made. ABC News disputes the claims made against it and will address this matter in court,” an ABC spokesperson told Fox News earlier this week.
Corn has also denied all wrongdoing.
“I vehemently deny any allegations that I engaged in improper sexual contact with another woman. Kirsten Crawford’s claims are demonstrably false,” Corn told Fox News in a statement through his attorney. “I will be pursing all available legal remedies against these women and defending myself vigorously.”
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