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Gayle King Takes CBS News to Task for Digital Clip of Lisa Leslie Interview

Gayle King Power of Women 2017
Marco Grob for Variety

CBS This Morning” co-anchor Gayle King took to Twitter to complain about the way CBS News excerpted her recent interview with former WNBA player Lisa Leslie about basketball great Kobe Bryant – a rare display of a major news personality visibly at odds with her network over editorial judgement.

In a two-part video posted to Twitter Thursday, King told followers she was “advised to say nothing,” but that wasn’t “good enough” after a snippet of an interview in which King asked Leslie her thoughts about accusations in 2003 that Bryant had raped a woman. A criminal case against Bryant was dropped on Sept. 1, 2004, after the accuser declined to testify. In August of that year, the woman filed a civil lawsuit, which was settled out of court on March 2, 2005. People who saw the clip were led to believe King had asked only about Bryant’s legal woes.

“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,” King said. “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,” she said.

King is dealing with a phenomenon that rattles many TV-news anchors, who often come under intense social-media scrutiny for clips of longer exchanges or segments that last just seconds on social-media outlets. They are then subject to angry remarks and backlash, even though the people who are commenting have not seen their work in full. King said in her comments Thursday that she had insisted a Leslie response about the time not being right for a longer discussion about the accusations against Bryant be included in the TV segment.

“When the interview aired, we had a great reaction to it. I talked to Lisa last night. I believe that Lisa was OK with the interview. And I felt really good about the interview. 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 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.”

A CBS News spokesperson could not be reached for immediate comment.

Few major TV anchors have not had to grapple with social-media backlash in recent years. As more TV-news operations turn to digital media to lure younger viewers, they are flooding Twitter and other outlets with short video bursts that contain enough 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.

King wields enormous clout these days at CBS News. She signed a new deal with the news unit last Spring as incoming CBS News President Susan Zirinsky worked to overhaul two of the operation’s flagship programs, “CBS This Morning” and “CBS Evening News.”  The morning program suffered ratings declines after former co-anchor Charlie Rose was ousted in 2017 in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment being made against him, and CBS News sought to replace him with John Dickerson and Bianna Golodryga.

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 in recent months.

But King recently told Variety she sees the show as being built on more than her efforts, a nod to her co-anchors, Tony Dokoupil and Anthony Mason.  “I know that no one person can do this. A lot was made about it. But I don’t look at it now that I have re-signed. I don’t look at it as a big responsibility. My responsibility is to make sure the three of us have a great show, and I have always looked at it that way,” she said in an interview with Variety published last month. “I was glad to be able to re-sign, because I would not have stayed. I was really prepared to move on, but I’ve always had a great relationship with CBS and wanted to continue it.”