Chaos at ABC News as Embattled Boss Kim Godwin Steps Down

Arturo Holmes/WireImage
Arturo Holmes/WireImage
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After a tumultuous weekend at ABC News, Kim Godwin, the first Black president of a network news division, announced she was stepping down, according to an internal memo sent to staff and obtained by The Daily Beast on Sunday night.

Godwin’s resignation is a severe public relations blow for Disney CEO Bob Iger, who until recently was publicly backing her despite numerous reports of growing discomfort within the ranks. Critics said she spent more time promoting herself than she did in the newsroom, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported her Sunday announcement that she planned to “retire from broadcast journalism.”

Godwin said that she’d made the decision “after considerable reflection,” adding that she would “look to the future and prioritize what’s most important for me and my family.”

The announcement comes just days after it was reported that the veteran newswoman told people in a meeting that Black people don’t watch the news, an astonishing claim that first came to light via two reports in Puck and CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter. Both detailed meetings in which Godwin made the controversial statement and also claimed that the network had overcompensated for a lack of diversity in its newsroom following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis cops and the Black Lives Matter protest movement that followed.

The reported comments rankled many within the organization—which has a venerable lineup of high-profile Black on-air personalities, including Robin Roberts, Michael Atrahan, Byron Pitts, Deborah Roberts, Linsey Davis and Rachel Scott.

Two current ABC News staffers also expressed their displeasure at Godwin’s comments to The Daily Beast, calling them “incredibly disappointing.”

“[Her words] couldn’t be further from the truth, but it also speaks to a larger issue about systems and individuals who uphold prejudice and stereotypes for personal gain,” one ABC staffer told The Daily Beast over the weekend, before Godwin announced her exit.

Inside the ABC News ‘Reign of Error’

The decision to step down comes three years after Godwin was hired to head the network, a rocky tenure marred by scandals, missteps, and internal strife. Earlier this year the company moved another network executive, Debra OConnell, above Godwin in an attempt to assuage the restless newsroom—a move that left Godwin “apoplectic,” The Daily Beast’s Confider reported at the time.

No immediate successor was announced to replace Godwin, though OConnell, whose background is in sales and not journalism, wrote to staff in her own memo that she would run the division in the interim.

“Since assuming this role in February, my goal has been—and will continue to be—to provide this team with the means necessary to build on our success and carry on the proud tradition of ABC News into a future full of opportunity and innovation,” OConnell said.

The restructuring came after Godwin struggled to lead the network through a series of public-facing challenges, including layoffs and the disastrous decline of flagship show Good Morning America’s ratings. In 2023, one source told The Daily Beast that Godwin had been on a “reign of error.”

That April, even as ABC News laid off 50 staffers, Godwin was reportedly jetting around the country to the Oscars and other splashy events. At the time, the network had imposed a ban on all non-essential travel. Godwin was allegedly flying in first class.

In a much-chronicled revolving door of treacherous executive moves, Godwin was hired from CBS in April 2021 by prominent Disney executive Peter Rice. The following year Rice was fired in a seven-minute meeting by then-CEO Bob Chapek—just five months before Chapek himself was fired after only two years on the job, and replaced by the former, and now current, CEO Bob Iger.

Another thorn in the network’s side has been the revolving-door departures of on-air stars like Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes, who were only forced out after their high-publicized affair became what Godwin characterized as a “distraction,” and weatherman Rob Marciano, whose alleged anger management issues prompted his ouster last week.

Marciano had reportedly already been banned from Good Morning America’s set before the “last straw” that led to his termination—a “heated screaming match” with a producer first reported by The Daily Beast.

Last month also saw the exit of longtime Washington bureau chief Jonathan Greenberger, who left ABC for Politico.

Earlier this week, it was reported by CNN that staffers had become increasingly frustrated with Godwin’s mismanagement and “the era of angst she has ushered in since taking the helm in 2021.” Many took their concerns to OConnell, who in scrutinizing Godwin’s leadership had also begun to privately voice concerns of her own, according to the network.

The same day, Puck reported that Godwin had also rankled and horrified staffers by making several race-related comments, including that Black people don’t watch the news. Godwin also claimed in at least one meeting that, following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, news networks have “overcompensated” with diversity hires in their upper echelons, according to the report.

“It’s sad when the very few Black executives who make it to the C-suites, implicitly and explicitly undermine Black talent,” the ABC staffer said. “Not only is it misinformation, but it diminishes the legacy of titans like ABC’s very own Carole Simpson and Max Robinson who helped build the organization and pave the way for others in this industry. It’s also a slap in the face to the Black talent across ABC News.”

Another ABC source told The Daily Beast that, right after Godwin was hired, staffers heard the exec claiming that there were too many white executive producers. “I’ll take care of that,” she reportedly said in May 2021.

In a Saturday statement, the National Association of Black Journalists stood up for Godwin, suggesting that certain “recent media reports” might have been penned “with the intention of undermining the leadership of the first Black woman to take the helm of a global news organization.”

Alleging that the reports had failed to demonstrate “basic journalism” by including alternative viewpoints, as well as “sources and facts that speak to Godwin having significant support inside” ABC News.

But a number of prominent Black journalists both inside and outside ABC either did not respond or declined to comment when reached by The Daily Beast with questions about Godwin’s comments. Notably, none of the network’s high-profile stars, including Michael Strahan and Robin Roberts, stepped up to support her either.

The NABJ said it planned to meet with Disney and ABC execs to “talk about a path forward.” It was not immediately clear on Sunday if that meeting had taken place or been scheduled.

An ABC staffer told The Daily Beast prior to Godwin’s exit that they hoped the network was aware of the five-alarm fire it had on its hands.

“In comparison to our counterparts, Black journalists are far too often undermined, overlooked, underutilized, shortchanged and the least supported,” the staffer said. “I hope that Disney takes a real hard look at the systemic issues that got them to this point.”

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