FEBRUARY 2020 - Gayle King and the Death of Kobe Bryant
Photo Caption and Credit: Kobe Bryant memorial at Staples Center on Jan. 26, 2020. (Courtesy of Luke Harold/Wikimedia Commons)
By: Daelyn Newman
On Feb. 4th, 2020, renowned journalist Gayle King sat down with WNBA basketball star Lisa Leslie on CBS This Morning to reminisce on the legacy of Kobe Byrant, who had passed away just days before and was a long-time friend of Leslie. King, who has been the face of CBS This Morning for the last eight years and is also the editor-at-large of the award-winning O, The Oprah Magazine, brought up Bryant’s sexual assault charge from 2003 during the interview. This decision caused an uproar of backlash, disagreement, and apologies. By discussing this topic with one of Bryant’s best friends shortly after his death, King damaged her legacy of trust and CBS’s.
During the interview, King discussed the fact that Bryant’s legacy is sometimes said to be complicated because of the sexual assault charge brought against him in 2003. She then asked Leslie, “Is it complicated for you as a woman, as a WNBA player?” (CBS News, 2020). According to The Guardian, in response, Leslie stated, “I don’t think it’s something we should keep hanging over his legacy. It’s time for the media to leave it alone and to back off” (Evelyn, 2020).
Many viewers, specifically black viewers, were furious with King’s question. Famous rapper Snoop Dogg posted an Instagram video after the interview aired, stating, “What did you gain from that?… We expect more from you Gayle…We your people.” (Mendez, 2020). He also called King various vulgar names, including “punk motha fucka,” according to Hip Hop magazine XXL (Mendez, 2020). Many NBA stars also spoke out via Twitter, including NBA basketball champion Lebron James.
Not only did this incident place a dent in King’s reputation, but it also put CBS News under fire. “Society is going to have a double critique of her because she speaks for the African American community and is also one of the highest-profile black women on television,” said Tamara Lee, an assistant professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (Butler & Ellison, 2020). According to The Hill, a poll conducted by Morning Consult/Hollywood Reporter in 2019 named King, one of the two most trusted female black journalists in the industry, specifically morning show hosts (Concha, 2019).
King defended herself in 2 Instagram videos after receiving the backlash. In the videos, King stated, “I know that if I had only seen the clip that you saw, I would be extremely angry with me too. I am mortified. I’m embarrassed, and I am very angry. Unbeknownst to me, my network put up a clip from a very wide-ranging interview, totally taken out of context and when you see it that way, it’s very jarring.” (Burke, 2020). King apologized and took accountability for her wrongdoings, but continued to criticize her network, CBS News. “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…there will be a very intense discussion about that,” King said (Burke, 2020).
CBS News President Susan Zirinsky spoke about the incident stating, “We fully support Gayle King and her integrity as a journalist.” (Wise, 2020). Zirinsky stayed true in believing that King’s interview was “comprehensive and thoughtful,” according to The Hill (Wise, 2020).
The Handbook of Journalism Studies states that “A story that sensationalizes the personal life of a public figure may be legal- it may be “legally” safe to publish- but it may be unethical in being inaccurate or unfair.”(Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch, 2020, p. 296). King’s statement was factual, however, it was also unfair and unethical to bring up Bryant’s sexual assault charge so soon after his death with a close friend and push the narrative with follow up questions about the case.
Journalists and their news organizations work closely, and the two need to remain on the same page to sustain public trust in individual journalists and the news outlets they work for. CBS News and King handled the situation in a timely fashion in order for the two to remain honorable. However, a simple mistake is why it is hard for journalists to regain public trust and keep it. According to Katherine Fink, an assistant professor at Pace University, “The single biggest challenge facing journalism today is the public’s lack of trust in it” (Fink, 2018, p. 40)