Oprah Winfrey says Gayle King is getting death threats over interview question about Kobe Bryant: 'She is not doing well'

Oprah Winfrey says Gayle King is “not doing well” after the CBS This Morning host’s interview with WNBA star Lisa Leslie about the late Kobe Bryant, in which she brought up his sexual assault case.

On Friday, Winfrey appeared on Today with Hoda & Jenna, where she weighed in on the interview that King conducted with Leslie, a longtime friend of the Lakers’ star who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. on Jan. 26.

Oprah Winfrey is defending Gayle King after her "CBS This Morning" interview about Kobe Bryant triggered online death threats. (Photo:  Greg Allen/Invision for The Hollywood Reporter/AP Images)
Oprah Winfrey is defending Gayle King after her "CBS This Morning" interview about Kobe Bryant triggered online death threats. (Photo: Greg Allen/Invision for The Hollywood Reporter/AP Images)

During that interview, which aired Tuesday, King broached Bryant’s “complicated” legacy involving a dismissed sexual assault charge from a 19-year-old hotel employee in 2003. King’s line of questioning was slammed on Twitter, including by rappers Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, who felt she was disrespectful to the late athlete.

“We did a show yesterday Oprah, on best friends and how meaningful they are to us,” said Kotb. “And I think the last 24 hours for your best friend have been pretty difficult....”

“She is not doing well,” Winfrey, who has been friends with King since 1976, answered while fighting tears. “May I say, she is not doing well. Because she has now death threats and has to now travel with security and she’s feeling very much attacked. You know, Bill Cosby is tweeting from jail, and she’s not doing well and feels that she was put in a really terrible position because that interview had already ran. And in the context of the interview, everyone seemed fine, including Lisa Leslie.”

Winfrey pointed to “somebody at the network” who posted the interview clip out of context, making it appear as though King was “just trying to press to get an answer from Lisa Leslie.” Winfrey said that King had not slept in days, adding that the criticism was “misogynist vitriol.”

She added that the treatment of King has affected her personally. “...I think you stand in the gap, you try to be there for your friends, but this is very hard because when you have...the force of social media and particularly people who didn’t see either interview, making attacks — and I think everybody has the right to have their opinion — but to do it with vitriol is hate and meanness.”

On CBS This Morning, Leslie maintained that Bryant’s alleged conduct was “not complicated for me at all” when questioned by King. "Even if there's a few times that we've been at a club at the same time, Kobe's not the kind of guy, never been like, ‘Lis, go get that girl, or tell her, or send her this,’” she told King. “I have other NBA friends that are like that. Kobe, he was never like that."

Leslie’s remarks about Bryant’s ‘complicated’ legacy begin at 3:43-mark in video above

Leslie said she had never witnessed Bryant "do something to violate a woman or be aggressive in that way. That's just not the person that I know."

King pressed, "But Lisa you wouldn't see it, though. As his friend, you wouldn't see it."

"And that's possible," Leslie answered. "I just don't believe that...”

King also questioned whether the topic was fair game, given the dismissed charges and Bryant’s passing, or whether the matter was considered “part of his history.”

"I think that the media should be more respectful at this time," said Leslie. "It's like, if you had questions about it, you've had many years to ask him that. I don't think it's something that we should keep hanging over his legacy. I mean, he went to — it went to trial."

Many on Twitter seemed to agree. Actress Vivica A. Fox wrote on Instagram, “....Waking up to this interview and was just really pissed off! LIKE YO! I realize folks gotta do they job but this is just disrespectful in my opinion!” 50 Cent told the Associated Press of the questions, “It’s just not the right thing to do.”

And someone tweeted, “Kobe Bryant’s rape case was dismissed a decade ago. Why wait until he dies to ask Lisa Leslie (who has nothing to do with the case) questions about his legacy pertaining his rape case? Why not ask him when he was still here? Why not ask the victim?”

On Thursday, King addressed the incident in a two-part social media post.

“I’ve been up reading the comments about the interview I did with Lisa Leslie about Kobe Bryant,” she said. “I know that if I had only seen the clip that you saw, I’d be extremely angry with me too. I am mortified, I am embarrassed and I am very angry. 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. It’s jarring to me. I didn’t even know anything about it. I started getting calls: What the hell are you doing? Why did you say this? What is happening? I did not know what people were talking about.”

King added that she “insisted” on including Leslie’s wishes to stop re-hashing the sexual assault case because it was “powerful.” She felt it was frustrating for the network to “take the most salacious part, when taken out of context” for people who didn’t see the entire interview was “very upsetting to me.” She also promised a “very intense discussion” to follow.

The host admitted to having spent time with Bryant. “...He was very kind and very warm to me. And I felt that we had a friendly relationship. I too am mourning his loss just like everybody else....the last thing I would want to do is disparage him at this particular time and I hope people understand that...”

CBS responded to King's criticism in a statement on Thursday afternoon: “Gayle conducted a thoughtful, wide-ranging interview with Lisa Leslie about the legacy of Kobe Bryant. An excerpt was posted that did not reflect the nature and tone of the full interview. We are addressing the internal process that led to this and changes have already been made.”

Related: Gayle King Is ‘Angry' Over CBS' Promotion of Kobe Bryant Question

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