ABC News rocked by sexual assault accusations in lawsuit

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Michael Strahan, Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos on the set of ABC's "Good Morning America."

Michael Strahan, left, Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos on the set of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” (Lou Rocco / ABC )

When Kim Godwin was tapped as president of ABC News in April, one of the goals set for her was improving the culture of the division known for having a snake-pit atmosphere.

But the explosive allegations in a lawsuit filed Wednesday by a “Good Morning America” producer, accusing her former boss Michael Corn of sexual assault committed against her and another employee during his tenure at the network, shows just how heavy a lift Godwin will have going forward.

ABC News is now the fourth TV news organization to find itself mired in a sexual harassment scandal in recent years. Fox News, NBC News and CBS News have all seen top anchors (Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose) and executives (Roger Ailes and Jeff Fager) lose their careers after women subordinates went public with allegations.

The Walt Disney Co. unit had escaped a full-blown harassment controversy until “GMA” producer Kirstyn Crawford filed her suit Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court. Along with the assault accusations, the suit alleges

that three network news executives — Derek Medina, Tanya Menton and Heather Riley — failed to act after learning of her issues with Corn in late 2017.

Crawford did not make a formal complaint until February of this year; Corn left the company in May. Corn had been senior executive producer of “GMA” from 2014 until this April and previously oversaw “ABC World News Tonight,” where a former employee also alleged that he assaulted her on two occasions.

Corn, now president of news for Nexstar Media Group’s NewsNation cable channel, has denied the allegations. He received a vote of confidence from his wife, Claudette, with a Facebook post showing them in an embrace. “Could not love anyone more than this,” her post said. “Perfect human husband and father. Thank you for all you do for us.”

Inside ABC News, there was anger and shock over the lawsuit, especially over how the allegations of Corn’s actions were not immediately investigated when Crawford first discussed them several years back.

Godwin, who joined ABC News from CBS in May, said in a meeting with staff that she did not realize how broken the culture was at the company, according to one person who attended.

A report in the Wall Street Journal said Godwin wants an independent investigation into the allegations — including the role of the three executives. But a Disney representative did not confirm that such an investigation will happen.

The division went through a wrenching period last year when longtime ABC News business affairs chief Barbara Fedida departed following an internal investigation into racist remarks she made about on-air talent, including “Good Morning America” star Robin Roberts.

Roberts was among those most upset about Crawford’s lawsuit when it was discussed Thursday during a conference call, according to three people familiar with the matter. She said she would have “burned the place down” trying to protect the victim if she had known about the situation.

Crawford said she did tell “GMA” co-host George Stephanopoulos about the alleged incidents with Corn in late 2017.

Stephanopoulos urged Crawford to report the incidents to Menton, an attorney at ABC. He discussed the allegations with Menton; Riley, a communications executive; and Medina, then a senior vice president of business affairs. He later told Crawford that Menton was expecting her call.

Riley told Crawford that coming forward would be “messy,” according to the suit.

But Crawford feared retaliation and the loss of her job if she came forward, according to the suit.

Stephanopoulos continued to work with Corn after that time. Corn was known throughout ABC News for having excellent relations with on-air talent, as he kept “GMA” the most-watched morning program during his run.

The Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday in a statement that the company was “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.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.