The Medium, the Messenger and the Media Mission Matter

By Final Call Staff | Last updated: Feb 12, 2020 - 11:54:26 PM

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When a video clip of powerhouse CBS interviewer Gayle King was posted online, it went viral for all the wrong reasons. In the clip, Ms. King is interviewing basketball legend Lisa Leslie and dredges up an assault allegation about the late basketball star Kobe Bryant. Ms. Leslie responds that the unproven allegation doesn’t complicate Kobe’s legacy for her. She said he was never the type to aggressively target women—while other NBA friends may have been prone to womanizing.

Ms. Leslie doubts the rape allegation and says Kobe wasn’t the kind of person to assault and disrespect a woman like that. Ms. King insisted that because they were friends, Ms. Leslie would not have known. The journalist doesn’t ask a question, she makes a definitive statement in the short clip.

Gail King of CBS interviews basketball legend Lisa Leslie. A controversial clip of the conversation went viral and stoked Black anger. Screenshot: Youtube.com

Black Twitter and much of Black America were incensed, saying the interview was out of line, that opportunities abounded to question Kobe about the encounter while he was alive, that the pain of his death was too fresh and that once again an ugly double standard was at work and the legacy of a great Black man being tarnished. Ms. Leslie, a WNBA star, told Ms. King it was time for the media to leave the so-called accusations against Kobe alone. Enough is enough, she said.

The backlash was furious against Ms. King and included outright profanity, and what she called death threats as Black folk expressed being sick and tired of being sick and tired of media racism, bias and outright disrespect.

Ms. King took to Instagram and spoke: The clip was out of context, and it was understandable why people would be disturbed, she said. Her network, CBS, had edited and posted the clip without her knowledge or permission, she said. She called it mortifying, embarrassing and upsetting that the network chose and delivered that clip Feb. 4.

Her billionaire best friend, Oprah Winfrey, took to the airwaves saying Ms. King had received death threats and was not doing well. Others rallied to Ms. King’s side, saying the vitriol and “hate” directed at her were wrong. They are correct in saying any death threats were wrong and some ugly criticism of Ms. King exceeded the limit. 

But what about media hate and misportrayal of Black people, in general, and Black men, in particular? Ms. King should not have been threatened by anyone and the coarse language, replete with curse words is wrong. Yet, the spirit of the responses reveals something: Black folk are tired of seeing their great ones and not so great ones dragged through the mud and are tried of seeing Black personalities used to do the dragging.

And, while the focus has been on Ms. King, the real question is about purpose, perspective and power of her network. Those three things determine why media outlets do what they do and why they do it.

Ms. King’s network, her employer, used her and tried to curry favor with White female #MeToo viewers without talking about the history of deadly, false rape claims White women pushed against Black men. If she and her network want truth and justice where is coverage of the Harvey Weinstein trial going on in New York right now? 

Not rumor and conjecture but actual charges, evidence, arguments that will lead to a binding legal decision involving guilt or innocence for the man called the poster child for alleged rapes and abuses of women in the #MeToo era. 

Ms. King should expect questions and accountability—and so should her bosses. But, as Ms. King, told the world, her bosses told her to say “nothing” and let it pass. She, however, decided to speak.

The purpose of White-owned media, like CBS, is not to be fair and balanced when it comes to Black people and the entire industry has a history of racism and problems with racism today.

Black journalists should never allow themselves to be used as attack dogs and to denigrate other Black people. 

Black journalists must provide a perspective that brings balance and challenges White media organizations to ensure coverage is fair, true and sensitive. These are all things that White media outlets do when they are dealing with White audiences. Watch CNN coverage and you will see how that network tries to move to the right in many instances in response to the rise, power and appeal of Fox News to White viewers. CNN wants to capture and not offend at least some of those viewers by showing respect for their point of view and sore spots.

Lastly, we see once again that the star power of Ms. King meant nothing when it came to the power of her network and its desire for online clicks, eyeballs on the video and CBS capturing an audience. Someone had the power to make the call about what clip, when and where it aired and Black sensibilities weren’t considered.  

Also, the rape “allegation,” which never went to court, didn’t fail to proceed simply because the alleged victim didn’t want to go forward. According to news reports at the time, the case was falling apart. That part of the story can’t be ignored or washed away: “Kobe accuser’s ‘mixups’ She admits to several lies in claim,” the New York Daily News reported on October 9, 2004.

“KOBE BRYANT’S accuser admitted she lied to Colorado cops about several details when she alleged the basketball star raped her and kept quiet about the fibs for a year, according to new court documents. The 20-year-old woman came clean in a July 31 letter to prosecutors, explaining she embellished her account because she felt the police didn’t believe her. ‘I wanted to come forward and inform you of a few things that have been weighing heavily on my conscience,’ she wrote. ‘I am extremely disappointed in myself and also very sorry to anyone who was mislead [sic] by my mixup of information,’ ” the Daily News article said.

“The accuser had the opportunity to correct her lie a couple of months after she told it, when a prosecution investigator reinterviewed her. But she didn’t. … She didn’t set the record straight until a few weeks before Bryant was set to go to trial when she wrote the letter  which was among 625 pages of documents unsealed yesterday. Had the case gone to trial, the discrepancy in her account would have been powerful ammunition for the defense to attack the woman’s credibility on the witness stand. But at her request, prosecutors dropped the criminal charges in the middle of jury selection and she was never cross-examined,” the Daily News said.

Shouldn’t this have been part of the context in which Ms. King asked her question? If the question is to be asked aren’t these facts relevant or are they simply to be dismissed?

Ms. King had a slightly different take when her colleague Charlie Rose was accused of sexual misconduct. In a 2018 article, she argued men deserve due process when accused of sexual misdeeds. And, she stood by accused abuser Rose as her friend. “King told The New York Times Magazine that she does ‘worry’ about backlash to #MeToo, ‘because I think when a woman makes an accusation, the man instantly gets the death penalty. There has to be some sort of due process here. All of these inappropriate behaviors are not all the same,’ ” Salon magazine online reported in June 2018. Isn’t due process about fairness and isn’t it tied, at least in part, to a legal disposal of the case? Didn’t that happen with Kobe? The accusation was thrown out as the case was unraveling. 

“I don’t believe in turning your back on a friend, even when a friend has done something you adamantly disagree with and you’re disappointed in. But I also know that you listen to women, and I don’t discount their stories, either,” Ms. King added. So while Ms. Leslie stands by her friend Kobe and is convinced of his innocence, Ms. King stood by Mr. Rose as his friend despite any wrongdoing? 

In the end, we must always have our own outlets to tell our own stories, “for too long others have spoken for us and we wish to speak for ourselves.” It doesn’t mean denying or hiding the truth, but it does mean an independent point of view untainted and unrestricted by White concerns.