On Tuesday, CBS released a clip from an upcoming Gayle King interview with Lisa Leslie, WNBA star and friend to the late Kobe Bryant. The five-minute clip showed King questioning Leslie about Bryant’s 2003 rape case, and King has been swarmed with criticism and anger ever since. On Thursday morning, King posted an emotional video to Instagram and Twitter, telling us how angry she was with the network for releasing that clip and calling it “out of context.”
The CBS clip focused on this line of questioning from King: “It’s been said that his legacy is complicated because of a sexual assault charge,” she posed to Leslie. “Is it complicated for you as a woman, as a WNBA player?”
“It’s not complicated for me at all,” Leslie responded. “I just never have ever seen him being the kind of person that would do something to violate a woman or be aggressive in that way. That was just never the person that I know.”
King pushed back: “But Lisa, you wouldn’t see it, though,” she said. “As his friend, you wouldn’t see it.”
“And that’s possible,” Leslie replied. “I just don’t believe that.” Later, she added: “If you had questions about it, you’ve had many years to ask him that. I don’t think it’s something that we should keep hanging over his legacy.”
King has since been criticized for mentioning the topic, and particularly for pressing Leslie further when she spoke to Bryant’s temperament. Critics, who include 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, and Vivica A. Fox, say it’s disrespectful to Bryant and his family for King to ask these kinds of questions.
The TV host responded to this backlash on social media — and it’s clear the reaction to this clip has taken its toll. “I started getting calls. ‘What the hell are you doing? Why did you say this? What is happening?’ I did not know what people were talking about. So I’ve been told, been advised to say nothing, just let it go. ‘People will drag you, people will troll you, it’ll be over in a couple of days.’ But that’s not good enough for me because I really want people to understand what happened here and how I’m feeling about it.”
My perspective (1/2) pic.twitter.com/tUYK0yGh9q
— Gayle King (@GayleKing) February 6, 2020
King went on to explain the context of the clip, and why she’d felt it was important to raise the issue in a controlled setting. “I reached out to Lisa — because I know she’s a longtime friend of Kobe’s — to talk about his legacy and their friendship,” she said. “We had a really wide-ranging interview, talked about many things: his career, his passion, his sense of humor, the way he was mentoring other people, how he was starting his next chapter, it was wide-ranging. And yes, we talked about that court case because that court case has also come up. And I wanted to get Lisa’s take on it as a friend who knew him well, what she thought, where that should stand.”
“It was very powerful when she looked me in the eye, as a member of the media, to say, ‘It’s time for the media to leave it alone and to back off,'” King continued. “I felt really good about the interview…so, for the network to take the most salacious part when taken out of context, and put it up online for people who didn’t see the whole interview, is very upsetting to me and that’s something I’m going to have to deal with with them. There will be a very intense discussion about that.”
— Gayle King (@GayleKing) February 6, 2020
King also expressed her own grief over Bryant’s passing, and reminded her viewers that she felt only warmth towards the late NBA player: “I also want to say this. I have been with Kobe Bryant on many social occasions. He was very kind and very warm to me and I felt we had a friendly relationship. I too am mourning his loss just like everybody else. I still am shocked by it. It’s tragic and untimely and the last thing I would want to do is disparage him at this particular time.”
Judging from the comments on King’s social media, Bryant fans don’t seem receptive to this explanation — for many, to invoke Bryant’s court case in any capacity is out of line. King is not the first reporter to face backlash for addressing this issue — in January, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez was suspended for retweeting a Daily Beast story about Bryant’s case. While the Post ultimately reversed her suspension, Sonmez faced death threats, had her address posted online, and faced serious consequences in her professional life for drawing attention to this article.
Whatever your feelings are on Bryant or his 2003 case, Sonmez should not have been harassed in this way — and it’s awful that King is now going through the same thing. CBS was irresponsible to release a deliberately inflammatory section of the interview and leave King to fend for herself when viewers react. We hope they’ll speak out in King’s defense in coming days.