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CBS News Chief Defends Morning Anchor Gayle King After Threats

CBS News came to the defense of one of its star anchors Saturday after morning host Gayle King was subjected to threats of violence by entertainer Snoop Dogg and others in the wake of an interview in which one of her questions pertained to a sexual assault charge against the late Kobe Bryant.

The interview, between King and the WNBA’s Lisa Leslie, “was comprehensive and thoughtful. We are a country where differences of opinion are welcome – but hateful and dangerous threats are completely unacceptable,” said Susan Zirinsky, president of CBS News, in a statement. She added: “We fully support Gayle King and her integrity as a journalist. We find the threats against her or any journalist doing their job reprehensible.”

On Thursday, a visibly distraught King broke convention by taking to social media to explain that a question she had asked about Bryant was only one of many about the basketball legend. In a two-part video posted to Twitter and Instagram, King told followers “If I had only seen the clip that you saw, I would be extremely angry with me too. I am mortified, I am embarrassed and I am very angry,” adding that “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,”

King could not be reached Saturday for immediate comment.

Some of Zirinsky’s remarks were reported previously by the Associated Press. King did not appear on “CBS This Morning,” her normal CBS News roost, on Friday, an absence the network attributed to “a long-standing commitment out of town” on that date. CBS News said King would appear on Monday’s broadcast of the program.

The swirl around King seemed to gain traction after rapper Snoop Dogg threatened her in an online video, using harsh language and epithets while suggesting he would condone some sort of hurtful confrontation, telling King to “back off….before we come get you.” In a subsequent video, he told followers he was “non violent” and added: “I don’t want no harm to come to her and I didn’t threaten her.”

King’s question about the assault charge was one of several she asked Leslie about the former Los Angeles Laker player. Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel worker in Colorado. He said the encounter was consensual. The case was eventually dropped The basketball star, who married his wife in 2001, admitted to having sex with the woman but said it was consensual. The case was dropped, but in 2005, he settled a civil suit with his accuser out of court.

A number of prominent personalities have come to King’s defense over the last several hours. Willie Geist and Mika Brzezinksi, co-anchors of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” rallied for King in Twitter posts, as did Chris Licht, the former executive producer of “CBS This Morning” who now helps run CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Geist said that “the threats against Gayle King for asking a fair question in the course of a long interview are absolutely disgusting. Gayle is one of the most thoughtful people in our business.”

Even Susan Rice, the nation’s national security advisor during the Obama administration, came to the anchor’s defense. “Gayle King is one of the most principled, fair and tough journalists alive,” she said.  “You come for Gayle King, you come against an army. You will lose, and it won’t be pretty.”

Few major TV anchors have not had to grapple with such backlash in recent years. As more TV-news operations turn to digital media to lure younger viewers, they flood Twitter and other outlets with short video bursts that contain enough content to grab an individual’s attention, and can hopefully push that person to seek out more at a news outlet’s own platform. But the clips isolate a piece of an interview, or even a longer bit of dialogue – and often contain context-free questions, declarations or on-screen reactions that spur outsize reaction. That reaction often draws other social-media users to the discussion, and an anchor or correspondent can be pilloried without being able to defend themselves or get people to watch a fuller presentation.

As odd as it might seem, King and Snoop Dogg work for the same company. The rapper has appeared on cable network VH1, now a CBS sibling after CBS Corp and Viacom Inc. merged at the end of 2019 to form ViacomCBS. Snoop Dogg has for three seasons appeared with home-arts guru Martha Stewart in “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.”  A spokeswoman for VH1 could not be reached Saturday evening for comment about the status of the rapper or the program with the network.

King is one of the best-known personalities at the new company, and stood as part of an assemblage of ViacomCBS employees who rang the bell at the Nasdaq stock exchange on its first day of trading as a merged entity. When Zirinsky took the reins of CBS News last year, she placed new emphasis on King, who has broadened her profile with a series of headline-making newsmaker interviews at “CBS This Morning” in recent months.

 

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