Gayle King knew R. Kelly might storm off. His erratic behavior during their interview to discuss allegations of sexual abuse had her wondering if she might be injured.
“I watched old interviews with him. I know that when he gets upset he leaves,” she said. Kelly did indeed pop up out of his seat in a lather. “He went from zero to 99. I thought he would accidentally hit me. I thought that would really hurt.”
She famously kept her calm as the entertainer, now charged with multiple counts of aggravated sexual abuse, ranted.
“I was hoping he would get it together, which he did,” she said. “I think he was having a breakdown in real time. When it was over we all just said, ‘What the hell just happened?’”
The journalist recently named to Time’s list of the world’s most influential people discussed professional and personal milestones Thursday at “Numbers Too Big To Ignore,” a fundraiser benefiting the Atlanta Women’s Foundation. The organization works with a number of nonprofits to support programs serving women and girls.
The event, held in a packed ballroom Georgia World Congress Center, was chaired by Bentina Chisolm Terry and Lativia Ray-Alston.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms offered welcoming remarks and announced a $10,000 donation from the city.
“You along with the work of the Atlanta Women’s Foundation continue to change our communities, our city and our world,” Bottoms said.
CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield led the wide-ranging talk with King.
“I’m 64 and I still feel like a big kid when I go to work,” said King, who revealed that journalism wasn’t necessarily her first love. “I didn’t know this was my passion. I majored in psychology in college. I loved listening to people’s problems and giving unsolicited advice. I still love doing that.”
She also considered pursuing law, but a job at a television station during college set her on a new path.
“I’m just figuring out the way to engage,” she said, discussing her interview style. “I’m always looking for that little nugget that’s not so obvious.”
About two years ago, King was stunned when her former colleague Charlie Rose was fired amid allegations of sexual harassment.
“Charlie was, is, someone I care about. I couldn’t just get on the air and just act like the years we’d spent together didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to throw him under the bus. As painful as it was, I couldn’t do that,” she said of her comments at the time. She added that, of course, “That behavior is also unacceptable. The thing I like about Me Too is women can speak up, women are speaking up. You don’t have to suffer in silence.”
“On the flip side we need to be very careful,” she continued, bringing up the backlash comedian Aziz Ansari faced when Babe.net published an anonymous accuser’s allegations claiming he pressured her to have sex.
“That to me sounded like - we’ve all been there - a really bad date,” King said. “There’s a big difference between Al Franken and Harvey Weinstein.”
King also shared some endearing details about her close friendship with Oprah Winfrey. As someone who didn’t grow up in the church as Oprah did, King didn’t know what to make of the title of Diana Ross’ memoir. “Secrets of a Sparrow” paid homage to Ross’ performance of the beloved gospel song “His Eye is On the Sparrow,” but King didn’t get either connection.
Diana Ross sure seems to like birds, King mused one day to her bestie.
“Do not say that out loud!” said Oprah, bringing her up to speed.
“When people saw me as ‘just Oprah’s best friend’ let me tell you, it ain’t bad being her best friend,” King said. “I always saw myself standing in her light, not her shadow.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.