Monday, July 20, 2015

What's Still True Behind Cosby Affair

Considering the steady drumbeat of allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, and the release of details Cosby himself once admitted regarding his extramarital affairs, perhaps it's time to re-visit this essay I wrote last year on the topic:

From November, 2014:

I really, really, really like Bill Cosby.

He's genuinely funny, he's G-rated, and he's been a stellar advocate for racial harmony.

Well, at least he's G-rated in public. For years, he's been quietly dogged by accusations of sexual impropriety behind the scenes.  In 2005, his lawyers reached an out-of-court settlement with a Pennsylvania woman over her charges of molestation after the police determined there wasn't enough evidence to officially charge the celebrity.

And as celebrities go, Cosby has been one of the biggest.  After earning millions of dollars during his eponymous hit comedy's run during the 1980's on NBC, he reportedly considered buying the network from its parent company, General Electric.  From his TV shows to his Jell-o commercials to his many public appearances, Cosby personified the prototypical father and husband, since his marriages and family lives - both onscreen and off - seemed so stable and robust.  When a son of his in real life was killed in 1997 during a botched robbery, the country was shocked by the reminder that such indiscriminate tragedy can strike even a beloved patriarch like Cosby.

Unfortunately, it's been the alleged tragedies of a premeditated sort that have suddenly blown up in Cosby's face, as a fifth woman has recently come forward with new claims of Cosby as a sexual predator.  A former supermodel says that Cosby drugged and raped her in a hotel room years ago - all of these incidents happened years ago - which fits a pattern of abuse each of Cosby's other accusers have outlined.

Making matters worse for Cosby is that one of his lawyers scoffed at the most recent accuser, contemptuously suggesting that hers represents a desperate grasp for notoriety and relevance as her career fades.

Nor does it help that Cosby's response to all of this current furor has been silence.  Indeed, Cosby's response has been brazen in its timidity.  He's either personally said he doesn't talk about such allegations, or he lets his lawyers say it for him.  And on the one hand, it's an understandable response:  if they're not true, why dignify such sordid accusations with an official response?  On the other hand, if they are true, appearing to take the high road by not talking about them can look equally meritorious to the public.

And speaking of Cosby's public, it currently seems as if most Americans want to give him the benefit of the doubt, and honor our memory of him with deference to his steady insistence that the allegations completely lack merit.

Yet, what if the allegations have merit?

In a way, this is exactly the type of "he said - she said" dilemma that makes many allegations of sexual misconduct extremely difficult to investigate, let alone prosecute.  Compounding this dilemma is the fact that Cosby has been a Hollywood star since the 1960's, and a black one at that, which makes him quite rare when it comes to America's celebrity universe.  One of his accusers has publicly stated that Cosby is an "untouchable," and that's why she never went public earlier with her story.  It's only now, as she sees what may be her final chance at wresting an apology from him, that she's come forward to join the growing chorus against Cosby.

It's hard to see what else these woman could hope to gain from their allegations, except perhaps an apology.  Whatever statutes of limitations there may have been have likely expired, so it's not like Cosby faces any jail time.  He's already reached some sort of financial settlement with one of his accusers, so maybe these other women see this as a chance to get some money out of him before the 77-year-old edges ever closer to death, which would end their money hopes.  But Cosby's passing would also end their hopes of getting a personal apology from him, if indeed, he really did to them what they say he did.

As Cosby and his representatives remain mum on these charges, Hollywood's public relations machine has decided that he's no longer worth the liability.  Upcoming talk show appearances have been cancelled, a new television project with NBC has been scrapped, and his signature series, the Cosby Show, has been pulled indefinitely from cable TV re-runs.  Not because Cosby is guilty, but because the entertainment industry loathes associations with damaged brands.  And Cosby has suddenly become a damaged brand.

Not just from the accusations against him, but his own attempts at ignoring those accusations.

Die-hard Cosby supporters would counter, "well, what else is he supposed to say, other than that they're not true?"

And you know what?  It's hard to come up with anything else to say, isn't it?  We're back to the "he said - she said" dilemma, in which nobody really wins.  Cosby can continue to deny, and lose a few media projects that would have paid him a fraction of what he used to command.  But whether it's fair or not, the aura of suspicion gets thicker with each woman who tells her story.  And the women, for all of the public's sympathies for victims, are treated with suspicion as well, since we don't really know if they're inadvertently making Cosby the actual victim.

Besides, if her story is accurate, what should any female supermodel be expecting - rightly or wrongly - when she's alone in a hotel room with a man?  If something did happen, might she simply be harboring regrets?

Meanwhile, the deeper danger in all of this can be seen in how it affects other victims of sexual abuse.  If an abuse victim doesn't have irrefutable, obvious evidence to back up their claim, the skepticism they may face can make coming forward with an allegation frightfully foreboding.  If the abuser happens to be a highly-regarded or powerful person with far more resources at their disposal - whether in the form of public admiration, money, or influence within the industry employing them, the odds of a victim achieving credibility become even longer.

Whomever is lying when it comes to the Cosby allegations is not only working against their own self, but they're reinforcing the public's weariness in trying to parse the truth out of similar cases, whether they involve international celebrities or not.

The most we can hope for is that the truth comes out sooner rather than later, not just for the benefit of whomever is the victim here, but for all future legitimate victims of sexual abuse.

And perhaps the innocent victims of false accusers, too.

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