Gayle King, R.Kelly, Journalism Competence And The King’s Pass

For some reason—OK, I think I know the reasons—CBS morning host Gayle King is getting plaudits for mishandling the insane R.Kelly interview last week. The photo below  says it all: Kelly, his reputation and career falling apart in chunks because the years of rumors and accounts of his alleged sexual misconduct with underage girls finally caught up to the hip-hop superstar (thanks to an explosive documentary—hmmm, where have we heard that before?— is standing, shouting, ranting and generally going bonkers as King sits immobile and silent, with her eyes cast down.

There were two exhibitions of the King’s Pass on display in the interview and its aftermath. Kelly, being allowed to behave outrageously on the air was one, for most guests in any setting would be ordered to sit down, act civilly, or leave the studio after such an infantile and threatening display. King was the other, praised for showing that her frequent feminist rhetoric was convenient claptrap, and that she did not have the guts or principle to assert her power over an abusive male when professional ethics demanded it.

I’m not sure which is more unforgivable. CNN said that King’s passivity was a masterclass in journalism. The Washington Post praised her “composure.” She told the New York Times that she was silently thinking, “Don’t walk off the set. Don’t walk off the set.” A competent journalist should have given him a warning, and then had him thrown off the set. A female professional who had the integrity to demonstrate how women should handle male abuse would have demanded that he sit down, apologize, or leave. They train salespeople and operators to push back against abusive customers, but a national TV host doesn’t have the fortitude to act when a guest behaves like a berserk barbarian?

King let Kelly get away with his rude and ugly behavior because he’s a big star, great ratings, and was taking her cue from “galpal” (and your guess what that means here is as good as mine) Oprah Winfrey, who famously let Tom Cruise jump around her set like an organ grinder’s monkey as he celebrated his love for Katie Holmes.(This parody from “Scary Movie 4” was apt…)

At least Cruise was being happy and enthusiastic, so Oprah could (barely) justify letting him act like that. Kelly’s meltdown was something different entirely. King had an opportunity to demonstrate what happens to men, stars, jerks, actors, singers, lawyers, or politicians who go on TV and embarrass the host, their gender, their race and their profession. They get called on their conduct, humiliated, and become an example and a warning to all other fools and boors who might be tempted to behave similarly. Instead, she have us another lesson, this one in King’s King’s Pass. Rules and common courtesies are for the little people.

And why is Gayle King being praised for capitulating to toxic masculinity? Well, why is Gayle King on CBS at all? King hooked her wagon to Oprah Winfrey’s star way, way back when O was a morning TV personality in Baltimore. She was a production assistant with no journalism training or experience then, but Oprah eventually persuaded her to move in front of the camera, where she proved to be a competent but hardly remarkable presence. For some reason she kept getting opportunities other female broadcast journalists did not: as Oprah’s star rose, so did King’s. She got several chances at her own show with various networks, and all flopped. She was down to a satellite radio show and then her won show on OWN–guess who’s network? Come on, guess—and then was miraculously hired to co-anchor “CBS This Morning.”

The first print scoop on how brave Gayle masterfully handled R. Kelly appeared in…O Magazine. What a coinkydink!

It’s good to be King. Gayle, that is.

 

8 thoughts on “Gayle King, R.Kelly, Journalism Competence And The King’s Pass

  1. Please tell me how this is any different than Drew Pinsky not saying boo when Zoey Tur threatened to send Ben Shapiro home in an ambulance or Michael Scotto crumpling like used notebook paper when Michael Grimm threatened to throw him over a balcony or Greg Gianforte body-slamming Ben Jacobs and getting away with it?

    The fact is some people are just impossible to control, Robin Williams, who would go crazy and hijack any show he was on, was another example. It’s better to just head things off and not give them a platform for acting crazy. Of course she could have done like has-been singer Charlotte Church, who slapped British comedian Johnny Vegas, after he showed up drunk and slung insults on her mercifully-forgotten chat show (which utterly failed to dethrone Jonathan Ross, the UK king of late-night chat).

    • Williams is a bad analogy: he was doing what he was booked to do, and was entertaining. Of course they can be controlled. Cut their mic, summon security, drag them away. Easy as pie. All it takes is some professionalism and guts, plus respect for your audience and medium. If it’s the Jerry Springer Show, that’s another issue.

  2. This reminds me of the David Letterman show when he had Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler on air and allowed Lawler to attack/abuse Kaufman*. My parents watched it and were horrified that Letterman sat back and let the whole disaster develop before the cameras, to great hoots and howls of the audience. I never quite understood why. Now I do. A host has an obligation to control his/her guests.

    I didn’t watch the King/Kelly interview. I did see bits and pieces, though. I agree that King handled it poorly. However, I have never been impressed with anything King has done. If there is a King’s Pass, it applies directly to King (note the irony . . . ) in that she is still on television because of her connections to Winfrey. King is not bright, insightful, or eloquent and she is not an effective interviewer. But for Winfrey, she would not be anywhere close to national broadcast; she would be languishing in irrelevant obscurity on some local cable show in Chicago or somewhere.

    To Jack’s point, who else would be celebrated for maintaining “her composure” for doing nothing during that interview?

    jvb

    *Ed. Note: A propos of absolutely nothing, but I have never understood, comprehended, “gotten” Kaufman and his comedy. I have an IQ above room temperature and can recognize where someone is going with his/her art/routine. Yet, Kaufman simply went over my head. I have never understood the accolades he is given as a comic genius. Call me obtuse or a Philistine but it seemed contrived and cynical to me. A movie was made about him starring Jim Carey – now, he is a comic masterpiece; R.E.M. wrote a song about him – which I still fail to understand

    Maybe it is the same thought I have on modern/pop art. For instance, Warhol gave us a Brillo box as modern art. Okay. He took a box of scrubbing pads, made it bigger and displayed it for all the world to see, as if the world couldn’t see the damned things in the local convenience or grocery stores. Nice colors, a bold image, and a marketing campaign that was easily identifiable. That I get. But, why is Warhol celebrated for putting the box in the middle of an art exhibit. “Art as expression, not as market campaign . . .”? The designers of the product’s image should be recognized for their genius, not Warhol.

    • Untimely death seems to boost popularity in many cases. Selena, James Dean, Steve McQueen, Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix etc. No idea why. Others like Chris Farley and Heath Ledger just kind of disappear.

      • Interesting point. I get Selena for the Tejano community here in Texas. I never quite understand why some are lauded and others are forgotten. Farley is a great example. He was just as manic as Robin Williams and just as clever. But, the sands of time just passed him by.

        jvb

        Wow. Two Rush references in on blog post. Today is a good day.

  3. They train salespeople and operators to push back against abusive customers, but a national TV host doesn’t have the fortitude to act when a guest behaves like a berserk barbarian?

    But they knew he was a berserk barbarian when they asked him for the interview, didn’t they? After all, what else could he be, given his sordid history?

    King let Kelly get away with his rude and ugly behavior because he’s a big star, great ratings, and was taking her cue from “galpal” (and your guess what that means here is as good as mine) Oprah Winfrey, who famously let Tom Cruise jump around her set like an organ grinder’s monkey as he celebrated his love for Katie Holmes.

    So to put a slightly finer point on it, she did it for the ratings, just like Winfrey. If we have learned nothing else about journalism since the turn of the century (and arguably since the Clinton presidency), nothing ever is allowed to interfere with ratings. If that means you have to sit there like a submissive sex toy and tolerate to a 5 minute profane rant from a barbarian, well, making omelets is always hard on a few eggs.

    King hooked her wagon to Oprah Winfrey’s star way, way back when O was a morning TV personality in Baltimore. She was a production assistant with no journalism training or experience then, but Oprah eventually persuaded her to move in front of the camera, where she proved to be a competent but hardly remarkable presence. For some reason she kept getting opportunities other female broadcast journalists did not: as Oprah’s star rose, so did King’s.

    Blasphemy, Jack. Don’t you know you can’t accuse Oprah of favoritism and King of bare competence? Why, she’s… Oprah! And King, well, she’s African-American!

    For shame! Twitter will now defenestrate you.

    • I’ve worked in several call centers, and NONE have trained us on dealing with abusive customers. All we’re told is that hanging up on customers is a cardinal sin, no matter how bad they deserve it. In my latest job, I had to ask my supervisor outright if I could drop a bad customer after giving a warning, and she said yes, but only after some hesitation.

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