Gayle King, a woman widely praised for her composure and interview skills during her March 2019 interview with R. Kelly, has faced heavy criticism this week over an interview with WNBA legend Lisa Leslie. In a clip posted by CBS, King asked Leslie her thoughts on the “complicated” legacy of her late friend Kobe Bryant, who was accused of sexual assault in the early 2000s. Leslie responded in defense of her friend and expressed her wish that the media would be more “respectful” of Bryant’s memory during this time, before discussing the impact of his death.
It is, from start to finish, a standard morning show interview with a sense of heart and an equally standard journalistic curiosity. Yet Gayle King, a woman merely doing her job, saw the aggressive criticism on social media—including from Snoop and, later, Bill Cosby tweeting from jail—and felt compelled to apologize for asking the exact questions that many of her viewers are grappling with.
In King’s apology, posted Thursday on Instagram, she said that portions of the interview used were taken out of context, and though she was advised to “say nothing,” she wanted fans to understand her interview with Leslie. “We talked about many things the interview was wide-ranging... and we talked about that court case because it’s come up,” King said. She also stated that the clip was taken out of context in what she described as the network’s attempt to show the most “salacious” part of a longer discussion, and apologized that people were offended by the clip.
Gayle King should not have to apologize for a clip that she did not edit herself. As a journalist, she should not have to defend asking standard questions, during which she gave ample space for Leslie to answer the question straightforwardly and did not attack her for her beliefs on Bryant. This is what interviews are. There are soft questions; there are hard questions; there is a dialogue. Now there’s a dialogue about the dialogue, and folks like Bill Cosby are contributing their ill-placed two cents.
Cosby, who is a convicted rapist, said on his Twitter account, “It’s so sad and disappointing that successful Black Women are being used to tarnish the image and legacy of successful Black Men even in death.” Asking a question about a widely known and widely discussed fact in someone’s history is not the equivalent of tarnishing a legacy. It is looking at that history as a full and complete picture. To overlook this chapter in Bryant’s life is akin to ignoring his Oscar or his contributions to the WNBA, just because none of it took place on the basketball court. All of these events, whether good or bad, exist within the scope of his life. Gayle King phrased her question to Lisa Leslie as respectfully as anyone could phrase such a personal and introspective question. Leslie answered it with grace, conviction, and absolute clarity on how she believes Bryant’s legacy should be viewed. Whether the masses agree is of no consequence; King was just doing her job.
It’s clear that the CBS clip was edited to garner the most attention possible by highlighting the one set of questions that has been setting the internet aflame since Bryant’s passing. This is how CBS has chosen to maintain its ratings and reinforce the presence of its morning show. Networks gonna network, and all media outlets that have taken on the responsibility of delivering the stories of the moment put forth the headlines that are most pertinent to current public discourse. No news outlet worth its teeth hides from difficult discussions. But Gayle King is not responsible for editing and promoting her own interviews. She is responsible for asking the questions and deftly maneuvering conversations—which, in this particular case, she has done. King and Leslie are not being used to “tarnish” a successful man. They are two powerful, wildly successful black women, with their own agency, publicly having a discussion happening in living rooms and offices across America right now.