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“It’s Very Easy to Monday-Morning Quarterback”: Kim Godwin Talks Scandals, Shake-Ups, and Success at ABC News


By the numbers, ABC News is thriving. Network news president Kim Godwin has notched, or at least maintained, several wins since taking over in May 2021. ABC News is still the leading broadcast news network, with the number one show in the morning (Good Morning America) and at night (World News Tonight With David Muir). Ask people inside ABC News what’s going on, however, and few will start with the ratings, as the network has found itself in the headlines in recent months over a raft of controversies and crises. Most notably, an extramarital affair between T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, the coanchors of GMA3, the third hour of GMA, played out in the tabloids. As the New York Post declared in a front-page headline: “Good Moaning America!” 

Godwin, initially concluding that a relationship between two consenting adults wasn’t in violation of company policy, decided to keep the anchors on air even after the news of their affair broke in late November. At one point the hosts appeared to make a joke about the scandal; the following week, Godwin benched them, and by late January, they were out. More recently, New York published a story about the “Horned Up” office culture at ABC News and suggested that relationships at the network a decade back were tied to some people’s career advancements. Meanwhile, frustrations with Godwin, both related to the GMA3 scandal and her broader leadership, have been aired by Puck and the Daily Beast, complaints exacerbated by the perception among staffers that ABC News wasn’t pushing back aggressively against the bad press. Publicly, Godwin’s voice was nowhere to be found as the stories piled up—in fact, Godwin has rarely engaged with the media in her time at ABC News, giving only three interviews in nearly two years at the helm.  

“It’s very easy to Monday-morning quarterback and second-guess when you don’t know what you don’t know, and frankly you’ll never know, because we’re not going to litigate it publicly,” Godwin recently told me of the Holmes-Robach situation over coffee at the Mandarin Oriental lounge, her first interview this year. “We ended up where we needed to be, and I’m very comfortable with that decision.” 

Godwin was similarly reticent when asked whether she or her team should have pushed back harder against the New York story. Godwin emphasized that she “didn’t have any insight into” much of what was reported. “It’s hard for me to go back and try to figure out what happened before I got there. All I can do is focus on right here, right now, this is the culture,” and “there’s a zero-tolerance policy now,” she said.  

Her response to me was similar to the one she’s given internally, which has left some employees unsatisfied. Multiple people I spoke to want to see Godwin more vigorously defending the organization as a whole, regardless of whether the issues in question happened on her watch. A recurring staff complaint about Godwin’s stewardship seems to center on communications—a perceived lack of transparency or clarity—on everything from potential layoffs to editorial vision. Sitting down with her in a booth overlooking Central Park, I tried to get a better sense of why.

Godwin is the first Black woman to serve as a president of a major broadcast news division. Her historic appointment came at a tumultuous time for the network, amid a lawsuit accusing Michael Corn, the former top producer of GMA, of sexual harassment and fostering a hostile work environment. The suit also claimed ABC did not adequately address complaints of alleged misconduct from multiple women. (The lawsuit was later dismissed.) She got off to an awkward start, telling staffers she’d asked her superiors for an independent investigation into how ABC had handled the allegations—only for staff to learn a few weeks later that Godwin’s superiors at parent company Disney were reportedly caught off guard by her public request for an outside investigation, and would pursue no such probe.

“Disney is huge, and coming in and not knowing anybody—it’s been a big learning curve, but I’ve been all in,” Godwin told me, who says she is “really stretching as an executive.” She noted the difficulty of coming in as the “first woman, the first person of color, the first outsider,” all in the midst of a pandemic. “Trailblazing is hard.” Plus, she says, her job requires presiding over “new businesses that previous presidents didn’t have to run,” such as streaming. “It’s not just the old way of, Let me just sit and watch World News Tonight. Like, there’s 15 other things that I have to get done.” 

There’s also been a big corporate shake-up since she arrived, with former Disney CEO Bob Iger returning last November to replace Bob Chapek, his handpicked successor who was fired by the board. Even as Godwin says she’s kept focused on the work at ABC News, the shake-up could impact her position. The Daily Beast recently reported that Godwin, who currently reports to cochairman of Disney Entertainment Dana Walden, pushed back when her Disney superiors told her they wanted her to report to Debra OConnell, president of networks and TV business operations, who recently joined Walden’s senior leadership team. The move would put another layer between Godwin and the top brass. 

Godwin had a brief laugh when I asked whether this structural matter had been resolved. “The bottom line is, I really don’t know, right? Our corporation is trying to figure it out, and trying to figure out who reports to who. What I do know is I’m still leading ABC News, and I have the support of both of my bosses,” she said. “As of this day, right now,” Godwin won’t be reporting to OConnell, she said, with the caveat, “There are a lot of moving parts, and I’m not privy to those conversations.”

Godwin’s handling of the GMA3 scandal has raised questions about her future, but Iger, at a recent dinner with top ABC talent, including George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts, and Michael Strahan, affirmed his support, saying, “Kim’s success is our success, and we are invested in her,” a detail first reported by the Daily Beast. I asked Godwin whether she feels she has the right people around her to achieve that success. “It’s evolving,” said Godwin, touting the diversity of her executive team and showrunners. “Who knows how things may evolve, but we’re doing pretty darn well with the team that we have right now,” she said. “Change is hard, but I only ask for collaboration.” 

But some insiders feel that Godwin is reluctant to lean on others and could be more communicative. “She’s making unforced errors because she doesn’t trust the people around her. A lot of us who want to see her succeed are just frustrated,” one longtime ABC News employee told me. Internally, people are still in the dark about the 7,000 jobs that Disney is set to eliminate, as Iger announced on last month’s earnings call. It’s unclear if ABC News will be hit hard—or left largely unscathed. Godwin says she told staff she shares their anxiety and “referred them to Bob’s note, which I thought was really well said.” But all she can do is tell people to “hold on” until decisions come down.

While Godwin says she wants people to see her as someone they can trust, a reported leak investigation conducted by Disney global security has sent a different message. I’m told staffers were interviewed as part of a search for employees leaking information, which came after a Puck article about Godwin, who suggested she had nothing to do with the probe. “I didn’t call for it” or “approve it,” she told me, while emphasizing, “confidentiality is important in all organizations.” 

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