"Good Morning America" boss and ABC embroiled in sexual assault lawsuit

Workers say they learned about the lawsuit through a Wall Street Journal report, rather than management

Published August 26, 2021 10:37PM (EDT)

Exterior of "Good Morning America" filmed at ABC studios in Times Square (Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Exterior of "Good Morning America" filmed at ABC studios in Times Square (Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

ABC is currently in the throes of a scandal that's left workers "angry and confused," following a lawsuit that went public Wednesday morning and alleges former "Good Morning America" boss Michael Corn sexually assaulted two women, CNN reports.

The lawsuit filed by former "GMA" producer Kirstyn Crawford accuses Corn of sexually assaulting her in 2015 and sexually assaulting another ABC News producer, Jill McClain, in 2010 and 2011. Crawford also accuses ABC of ignoring the assaults, "[looking] the other way" and "[elevating] Corn through the ranks due to his commercial success as a producer," according to NBC, which obtained access to the lawsuit. Corn abruptly left his position earlier this year.

While Crawford says "GMA" host George Stephanopoulos urged her to report the alleged assault, she claims that Heather Riley, who was senior director of publicity for "GMA" at the time, "cautioned Crawford that reporting the assault and harassment might get 'messy.'" Riley currently serves as vice president of crisis management at ABC.

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ABC has since put out a brief statement that says the network is "committed to upholding a safe and supportive work environment," and "disputes the claims made and will address this matter in court." 

While the disturbing details of the lawsuit are enough to cause upset, some of the anger and confusion stems from ABC workers learning about the lawsuit through reporting from the Wall Street Journal rather than management, they told CNN reporter Oliver Darcy.

Outrage from being kept in the dark prompted a "tense" all-staff phone call on Wednesday afternoon, in which ABC President Kim Godwin addressed workers' many questions and concerns. Questions Godwin fielded included why ABC said it "disputed" the allegations, why workers did not learn about the lawsuit from management first, and whether "GMA" would publicly address the allegations on air. Godwin's answers to these and other questions were unclear and ambiguous, per CNN's reporting on the internal call.

Like ABC, Corn, who now works as head of news at Nexstar's "NewsNation," also disputes the allegations against him. His legal team has since provided emails that appear to show Crawford and Corn engaging in friendly conversation shortly after Crawford claims she was assaulted and were "not the words and actions of a woman who had been assaulted hours before."  Similarly, in response to McClain's claims, Corn noted that she invited him to her wedding and "repeatedly communicated to me and my wife that she missed me after leaving her position at ABC."

Meanwhile, a Nexstar spokesperson told CNN that the company has "no comment on anything that may or may not have happened prior to Mr. Corn's employment with Nexstar." 

The reported frustrations of ABC workers over lack of transparency are warranted at a time of increased light being shed on allegations of abuse and misconduct at media companies. Earlier this summer, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez filed a lawsuit against her employer over a policy that had barred her from reporting on sexual misconduct issues after she came forward as a survivor of sexual assault. Before that, CNN faced backlash for bringing on legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin after an incident in which Toobin had masturbated on a Zoom call last year. A few years earlier, Matt Lauer was ousted from NBC after he was accused of assaulting several women in his office.

This pattern of allegations of sexual abuse at media companies is particularly concerning, because in many cases, men who may be accused of abuse could be ones in power who make decisions about how sexual abuse is covered and reported on. 

In and out of the media industry, sexual assault is endemic to our society, with one in five women experiencing rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. It stands to reason many women journalists, who already face endemic gendered harassment from their audiences as part of the job, are also survivors, often forced to walk on eggshells to not be seen as a liability by their "objective" employers, or intimidated into silence lest they report their assault and things get "messy."

As Crawford's lawsuit moves forward, ABC owes its employees transparency and communication. And Nexstar, where Corn is currently employed, can choose to be silent about the allegations, but at least owes its workers some communication about how it will keep them safe in the workplace, and how the company handles allegations of misconduct. 

By Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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