These allegations have been reported for years — before Bowman spoke to the Daily Mail, she spoke to Newsweek in February. Cosby has said almost nothing about the accusations. His publicist told Newsweek: “This is a 10-year-old, discredited accusation that proved to be nothing at the time, and is still nothing.”
Tamara Green spoke to Matt Lauer on the “Today” show in 2005 about her alleged experiences and in February to Newsweek. In 2004, Andrea Constand filed suit against Cosby for battery, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, alleging that Cosby had drugged and raped her. Thirteen women came forward with their own allegations and agreed to testify as witnesses if the suit went to trial. Cosby settled in 2006.
In recent years, Cosby has executed something of a career revival: He did a special for Comedy Central, “Bill Cosby: Far From Finished.” He is developing a new show for NBC slated for summer or fall of next year.
But it seems actor and comedian Hannibal Buress’s willingness to openly criticize Cosby finally tipped the scales against him.
Buress is on tour performing a new stand-up act. In it, he calls Cosby a rapist while voicing disagreement with his more recent role as public scold to black people.
“Bill Cosby has the f—ing smuggest old black man public persona that I hate,” Buress said. “He just gets on TV — ‘Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches.”
During his act, Buress expressed incredulity at what he calls Cosby’s “Teflon public image.” “I’ve done this bit on stage, and people don’t believe me. People think I’m making it up,” Buress said. “If you didn’t know about it, when you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny. That s— has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.'”
What was strange was the mushroom cloud of controversy Buress set off repeating something he had said before — not about new allegations, but about the same 13 women who signed on as witnesses in Constand’s 2004 lawsuit.
Without intending to, Buress became a perfect example of the conundrum of male allyship: It wasn’t enough 13 different women accused Cosby of drugging, raping and violently assaulting them. It was only after a famous man, Buress, called him out that the possibility of Cosby becoming a television pariah became real.
Last month, Cosby was a guest on the “The Colbert Report.” Colbert remained in character, but was unambiguously deferential. In August, Cosby appeared on “The Tonight Show” and got similar treatment from Jimmy Fallon.
Author Mark Whitaker omitted rape allegations from his new biography of Cosby, and the book was still widely praised for giving a comprehensive look at Cosby’s life. When HuffPost Live host Marc Lamont Hill asked Whitaker why he failed to mention the rape allegations in the book, for which he had Cosby’s cooperation, Whitaker answered: “In these cases, there were no definitive court findings, there were no independent witnesses, and I just felt, at the end of the day, all I would be doing would be, ‘These people say this, Cosby denies this.’ And as not only a reporter but his biographer, if people asked me, ‘What is the truth? What do you think?’ I would be in the position of saying, ‘I don’t know,’ and I just felt uncomfortable.”
Cosby is hardly an outlier when it comes to popular figures given the benefit of the doubt when accused of abusing women. When fired CBC host Jian Ghomeshi posted on Facebook Sunday night he was being targeted by a “jilted ex-girlfriend,” fans and even those unfamiliar with Ghomeshi immediately rallied around him. The post drew more than 100,000 likes.
Owen Pallett, a friend of Ghomeshi’s, pulled a Buress: He chose to publicly condemn Ghomeshi, who is accused of sexually assaulting and battering women. “Jian is my friend,” Pallet wrote in a rather damning Facebook post. “I have appeared twice on Q. But there is no grey area here. Three women have been beaten by Jian Ghomeshi.”
Pallett chose to speak while only two of nine women who came forward to accuse Ghomeshi — actress Lucy DeCoutere and lawyer and author Reva Seth — were willing to reveal their identities. The others requested anonymity out of fear of harassment, threats and retaliation. At the time Pallett published his post, only four women had come forward. Since then, four more have spoken to various Canadian news organizations. Many Ghomeshi supporters dismissed them as liars, as has Ghomeshi.
But somehow, Pallett’s willingness to speak bolsters the women’s claims. The problem, argued Salon’s Katie McDonough, is that people were shocked Pallett chose to believe women:
Is there anything that scandalous about Pallett’s decision? After all, what Pallett is doing is what a lot of people have already done — taken sides. Pallett just happens to have taken the side that says that women are not vindictive. Women are not liars. Women are not out to destroy men for sport.
On one hand, having male allies such as Buress and Pallett, who are unafraid to speak up, has been instrumental in amplifying women’s voices when they make accusations against men more powerful and famous than themselves. On the other, there’s a question why this is necessary at all — and why there’s such a reflexive reaction to dismiss them.
The sexual assault allegations by Bowman, Constand and Green were all over the Internet when Queen Latifah’s show decided to book Cosby. Quite possibly, it took Buress’s words to make Cosby so unpalatable the best decision for both parties was to cancel.