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.