Gayle King responds to backlash over Kobe Bryant sexual assault question

King was criticized on social media for asking Bryant's longtime friend Lisa Leslie about his 2003 rape case. The "CBS This Morning" co-host said the short clip left out most of the wide-ranging interview.
Image: Gayle King
Gayle King attends the 14th Annual L'Or?al Paris Women Of Worth Awards at The Pierre on Dec. 4, 2019 in New York City.Kevin Mazur / Getty Images file

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By Minyvonne Burke

Gayle King has responded to backlash over her asking about the Kobe Bryant rape case in an interview with WNBA star Lisa Leslie by blaming CBS for its edited clip of the conversation.

In a short clip of the "CBS This Morning" interview posted on social media Tuesday, show co-host King asks Leslie if she thinks Bryant's legacy is "complicated" by the 2003 sexual assault charge.

"Is it complicated for you, as a woman, as a WNBA player?" King asks in the interview done subsequent to the death of Bryant and eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter, in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

Leslie, a longtime friend of the NBA legend, says, "It's not complicated for me at all."

Bryant was not the "kind of person that would do something to violate a woman or be aggressive in that way," Leslie says. "That's just not the person that I know."

King suggests that Leslie, as Bryant's friend, would not be able to see him in that way.

"That's possible," Leslie says. "I just don't believe that."

Bryant was accused in 2003 of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado. He was charged with rape, but the case was dropped after the accuser declined to testify. A civil suit was later settled. The NBA star, who married his wife, Vanessa, in 2001, admitted to having had sex with the woman, but insisted that it was consensual.

In the clip of the interview with Leslie, King raises the possibility that bringing up Bryant's sexual assault case may not be fair "considering he's no longer with us, and that it was resolved."

Alternatively, she says, "Is it really part of his history?"

Leslie responds, "I think the media should be more respectful at this time."

"If you had questions about it, you had many years to ask him that. I don't think it's something that we should keep hanging over his legacy," she says.

King's reference to the rape case in the wake of Bryant's death led to swift outrage on social media.

Celebrities, including Snoop Dogg, weighed in. In an expletive-laden video, Snoop Dogg said King's question was "out of pocket" and accused her of trying to tarnish Bryant's reputation.

King responded to the backlash in two videos posted on her Twitter page Thursday morning, calling out CBS for posting only a small portion of her interview with Leslie without providing the full context.

"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," she 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."

King said during her conversation with Leslie they talked about Bryant's career, his sense of humor, how he was a mentor to many people and how he was looking forward to the next chapter in his life.

"It was wide-ranging," she reiterated, adding: "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."

King said she thought it was "very powerful" when Leslie said it's time for the media to stop bringing up the case. She said she insisted that part of their discussion be included in the tape of the interview because it "put a nice button on that part of the conversation."

"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," she explained. "There will be a very intense discussion about that."

King ended her video by reflecting on the times she met Bryant, calling him warm and kind.

"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," she said.

A spokesperson for CBS acknowledged that the excerpt the network posted online "did not reflect the nature and tone of the full interview."

"Gayle conducted a thoughtful, wide-ranging interview with Lisa Leslie about the legacy of Kobe Bryant," the statement read. "We are addressing the internal process that led to this and changes have already been made."