Kim Godwin’s tenure as the president of ABC News has been marred, as readers of this column well know, by some internal revulsion regarding her leadership style. Formerly the second-ranking executive at CBS News, the perennial number three, her sudden ascent to what was once the most important executive position in broadcast journalism immediately left her vulnerable to suspicion among the grizzled ABC veterans who had elevated the news division to such exalted status. To some, it was sort of like the Yankees hiring the manager of the Blue Jays.
These veterans, some with more than three decades of experience at the network, prided themselves on a hard-working, hyper-competitive and sharp-elbowed culture—a culture that fueled ABC’s rise to number one, albeit with some hurt feelings and a little H.R. drama along the way. Godwin was hired with a mandate to impose collaboration and collegiality, to clean up what one source had described as “a wolf den.”
The wolfpack didn’t take kindly to the effort, in part because they saw it as a threat to their way of life. But, more importantly, many believed that Godwin’s leadership style, which seemed long on work-life balance and short on editorial vision, was a threat to their hard-fought success. Rightly or wrongly, ABC News’s dominance was, in their view, the direct result of their unwavering, occasionally cutthroat commitment to better ratings, superior bookings, and the dark arts of the trade. Godwin felt like an affront to all that, and soon every gesture she made started eliciting eye rolls: the all-about-Kim Instagram account; the staff-wide Happy Birthday sing-a-longs; the penchant for handing out swag from her alma mater, FAMU, to employees who lived for the letters ABC.