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The Morning Show’s Creator Reported an Allegation of Assault at ABC. Should He Have?

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photos: Shutterstock; Getty Images

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported new details from a sexual-assault and harassment suit that a former Good Morning America producer filed against the show’s parent network, ABC, including the surprising involvement of Jay Carson, the creator of the Apple+ drama series The Morning Show, in alerting anchor George Stephanopoulos to the claims.

The allegations are serious. Kirstyn Crawford says that in 2015, when she was a junior employee at GMA, senior executive producer Michael Corn repeatedly kissed and groped her against her will while promising to help her career. A second former employee, Jill McClain, alleges in the suit that Corn assaulted her twice. (Corn denies the allegations.) Crucial to the case is the claim that ABC News executives were informed of Crawford’s story in 2017 but, instead of investigating it, “looked the other way and elevated Corn through the ranks due to his commercial success as a producer.” (ABC told the Journal, “ABC News disputes the claims made against it and will address this matter in court.”)

How did the executives allegedly know? Carson had interviewed Crawford while researching the Morning Show, and she told him Corn had assaulted her. “Mr. Carson passed that information to his friend, Good Morning America anchor George Stephanopoulos, the people said,” wrote the Journal’s Joe Flint. “Mr. Stephanopoulos told people he then informed key company executives.”

It’s an irresistible story: The producer of a show about sexual harassment in the cutthroat world of morning television managed to expose an actual sexual-harassment scandal in the world of morning television. Carson’s involvement was naturally framed as a heroic scoop. He was “in part to thank for uncovering sexual assault allegations at ABC News,” wrote a Journal tech columnist, and New York’s own Vulture observed, “The Apple TV+ show just jumped out of its reality to break a story in ours.”

Left out of the story is how Crawford felt about all this including whether she consented to have her story passed on. “So a woman disclosed that she was sexually assaulted, and a man passed that information on to another man without the survivor asking him to?” tweeted Robyn Swirling, executive director of Works in Progress, which focuses on workplace equity including sexual harassment. Had Carson acted to possibly put a stop to a powerful alleged abuser, or had his instinct to play white knight overstepped a victim’s boundaries?

It’s an ethical conundrum that might be at home in a prestige drama. The anti-sexual-violence organization RAINN, for example, says in its guidelines on supporting someone who’s been assaulted that “forcing the situation can make a survivor feel that control over their choices is being taken away, which may be retraumatizing after having experienced a lack of control over their body and physical safety during sexual assault.” On the other hand, Corn was still a high-powered executive at ABC at the time Carson became aware of the allegations, meaning he was potentially in a position to harm more people.

What actually happened, it turns out, is complicated. I spoke to two people close to the situation. They both confirmed that at a dinner that included Carson, Crawford, and her fiancé, Crawford described Corn assaulting her two years earlier. Afterward, Carson encouraged Crawford to report it to Stephanopoulos, for whom she served as producer, but Crawford was terrified of the network retaliating against her. “He said, ‘If you don’t tell George, I will,’” one person close to the case said. By the other person’s account, Carson gave her a few days to decide. Either way, when Crawford emailed to ask Carson for still more time, Carson said he’d already told Stephanopoulos.

Carson told me, “I tried to do what was right here but wrestled with what that was. Ultimately, I alerted Kirstyn’s boss, but I did so believing I had obtained her permission.”

At any rate, the lawsuit alleges that ABC, behaving much like the network in the Morning Show, sat on the information without investigating it until February, when the women hired an attorney and filed a formal complaint. Corn left ABC two months later. The network and Corn have each filed motions to dismiss.

Was Jay Carson Wrong to Report an Allegation of Harassment?