That’s just a sampling of reactions online. On her nationally syndicated talk show, Wendy Williams—who also appears in the issue—spoke out against the criticism of Ebony and Leakes, referring to it as “crabs in a barrel.”
Leakes herself bluntly defended the magazine’s decision to put her on the cover when she appeared at the recent star-studded gala unveiling Ebony’s Dec/Jan 2013 issue at New York’s Lincoln Center.
“I absolutely deserve to be on the cover,” she tells The Daily Beast. “This cover is about money, power, and respect. And it’s about a come-up story and I’m the one that had that story this year … Not only did I come out as a reality star that was very boisterous and vivacious and outspoken and all those things. I flipped that into money and respect. And a lot of people can’t do that.
“But listen to me, definitely all of the negative feedback definitely came from my own; African Americans were the ones that were the most negative,” she continues, adding, “And it’s so funny to me because I would call [the editor] over at Ebony and she would say ‘Girl please, glass houses. That’s all it is. They don’t want to see you on the cover, they don’t really understand the reason why you’re on the cover, they don’t know your story.’”
And a story it is—Linnethia Monique Johnson was born in Queens, N.Y., and at age 4 was sent to live with an aunt in Athens, Ga. Growing up she experienced harsh life lessons as a single mother, a stripper, and a victim of domestic violence. After many ill-fated attempts to become an actress (small parts on some black sit-coms, a deleted scene in The Fighting Temptations), Leakes put aside her acting dreams and concentrated on being the wife of Atlanta businessman Greg Leakes. It was the role, ironically, that made her a household name—and a paparazzi target, and a popular guest on daytime talk shows and comic fodder for late-night television (Late Night with Jimmy Fallonfamously spoofed her on its “Real Housewives of Late Night” skits). The Real Housewives of Atlanta, the show that made her famous, continues to be a ratings juggernaut for the Bravo network, even in its fifth season.
“Those who take issue with reality television’s role in pop culture have questioned whether Ebony made the right decision by glorifying one of its most popular characters,” said Amy Dubois Barnett, the magazine’s editor in chief.
“As the magazine of record for the black community, it is Ebony’s role to both reflect the aesthetics and interests of our readership, and to inspire them toward higher aspirations for themselves and for all African Americans. The November issue featured the Obamas on the cover, and was a perfect example of the latter. The December/January issue featuring NeNe Leakes on the cover is an excellent example of the former.”
Other notables featured on Ebony’s “Power 100” lists include TV personality Gayle King, radio-show host Tom Joyner, filmmaker Tyler Perry, celebrity blogger Natasha Eubanks, basketball star LeBron James, model Joan Smalls, TV producer Shonda Rhimes, Attorney General Eric Holder, author Toni Morrison, and BET honcho Debra Lee.
‘There are a lot of girls on these reality shows who are on there for the purpose of fame. That was never my story. I’m on there for money, because I wanted to be able take care of my family.’
The controversy hasn’t deterred Leakes in any way, however. According to her, it’s par for the course. “It’s true and I know you’ve heard it a million times, [African Americans] just don’t support one another,” she says. “But it’s OK for you to go pick up a magazine cover with Kim Kardashian. She’s my girl. We are cool. We talk. We do drinks and all of that. But her story ain’t no different than mine. You know what I mean? I might’ve worked at the strip club, but she made a sex tape.”