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On Monday, the pop star — freed from her conservatorship and speaking her mind — slammed the veteran newswoman, as well as her own handlers who set up the sit-down, for the "Toxic" 2003 interview.
Spears, 40, said that after her very public breakup with Justin Timberlake in 2002, she had holed up in her Manhattan penthouse and "could hardly speak" because she was "in shock." Her now-estranged father, Jamie Spears, and three other men arrived at the 21-year-old's door and it was then arranged that she would let Sawyer interview her about the breakup for ABC News.
"Something I never shared when I had that big breakup was that I couldn't talk afterwards," Spears wrote Monday in a now-deleted Instagram post. "I never spoke to anyone for a very long time. I was in shock. Pretty lame of my dad and three men to show up at my door when I could hardly speak. Two days later, they put Diane Sawyer in my living room. They forced me to talk!!! I was a baby ... and didn't understand but I f**king know now."
Sawyer infamously grilled Spears about what she did wrong in the relationship with the boy bander, suggesting she was at fault. (“You broke his heart, you did something that caused him so much pain, so much suffering. What did you do?” Sawyer pressed Spears.) She shamed Spears over having pre-marital sex and made her cry — running the footage of her tears even thought Spears requested they stop taping. She held up photos of Spears, in sexy magazine photo shoots, par for the course as a pop star, pushing her to admit the photos were too provocative. Sawyer pressed Spears on allegations of partying and drug use, put her in the hot seat over being late to a premiere and scolded her for giving the finger to a paparazzo. She also questioned her about a tabloid story that claimed Spears was addicted to shopping.
"What was with the 'you're in the wrong' approach?" Spears said of Sawyer's questions in hindsight. "Jeez... and making me cry???"
She said at that time, "I lived in my apartment for a year and never spoke to anyone ... my manager put that woman in my home and made me talk to her on national television and she asked me if I had a shopping problem!!! When did I have a problem with shopping??? When I never left my apartment???"
Spears also recalled a part of the interview, after talking in detail about the singer's sex life, when Sawyer insisted to Spears that she was a woman, not a girl — a reference to Spears's "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman" song.
"She said 'woman or a girl'," Spears recalled. "I would like to say now, ma'am, I'm a Catholic slut. You wanna join me at a mass and I can serve your husband my certificate on shopping for anonymous players? I should spend a thousand dollars if I want every day of my life and she can kiss my white ass."
In the post — liked by Spear's estranged mother Lynne before it disappeared — Spears also said she hated touring after just a few years and was forced to continue. She also talked about finally being able to have access to her own money and use an ATM now that the conservatorship has ended.
Looking back, in a lot of ways, Sawyer's interview was giving the public what it seemed hungry for. It was salacious. It was invasive. It was condescending. It was mean-spirited. At that time, that shaming was often the lens through which celebrity news was delivered, especially at the expense of young female stars — also including Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Making it worse, in this case, was that it wasn't by a mean-spirited blogger type but an established and acclaimed journalist, one who was a trailblazer for women in the field.
The Sawyer interview was featured in the New York Times's Framing Britney Spears documentary earlier this year, demonstrating how the pop star was treated at that time — and how it became worse leading up to her being put in the conservatorship. Spears was then stripped of basic rights, forced to work against her will and saw her fortune dissipated over 13 years before the legal arrangement was ended in November.
When the Spears-Sawyer interview was resurfaced in the doc, as well as a similarly upsetting Matt Lauer-Spears interview from that time, there were calls for Sawyer to apologize. She hasn't. When Yahoo Entertainment reach out to ABC News earlier this year, a spokesperson did not comment; when Yahoo Entertainment reached out over this latest, there was still no comment.
Sawyer has further been criticized for other past interviews with celebrities including Rihanna, Whitney Houston, Lisa Marie Presley and others.
"I've seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond," Timberlake, 40, wrote after Framing Britney Spears came out. "I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right. I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism."