Bill Cosby is 77 years old. He is in the denouement of his career and the future for him, at least in the public eye, grows dimmer by the day.
The whole of his career is up for renewed scrutiny, as evidenced by renewed attention to a 1969 stand-up album in which Cosby jokes about drugging women with Spanish fly. TV Land has pulled “Cosby Show” reruns from its lineup. So begins the cumbersome process of deconstructing The House That Bill Built.
As punishments go, these actions are imprecise and inartful, if punishment is indeed what’s taking place, but, as Slate’s Hanna Rosin argues, it’s all we’ve got: public shaming and a likely insignificant hit to Cosby’s checking account. The loss of syndication revenue his “Cosby Show” co-stars might have seen is little more than collateral damage.
The only person from the show to speak about the swirl of accusations has been Raven-Symoné, who issued a statement via her Instagram account refuting allegations circulated by a parody news site that Cosby sexually abused her when she played Olivia on “The Cosby Show” from 1989 to 1992. Many have been sharing the fake story with the impression that it is true. It’s not.
“I was NOT taking advantage of by Mr. Cosby when I was on the Cosby Show!” Symoné wrote. “I was practically a baby on that show and this is truly a disgusting rumor that I want no part of! Everyone on that show treated me with nothing but kindness. Now keep me out of this!”
By pulling Cosby’s already completed and widely consumed work, TV Land kicked off an effort to scour Cosby from pop-culture history — as though, with every re-air, the public would be reminded it had been duped, and was once again guilty of putting too much trust in an individual now thought undeserving of it. It’s the closest thing to retroactively reprobating Cosby, reminiscent of the NCAA vacating Joe Paterno’s wins and Penn State removing his statue after the coach was deemed culpable of covering up Jerry Sandusky’s sex abuse of young boys.
It doesn’t change history — or in Cosby’s case, alleged history — but it’s something. Paterno was erased from Penn State. Cosby’s Heathcliff Huxtable gets excised from a habitat built, between commercial breaks, on comfort and nostalgia.
It’s unclear where these revelations will lead, or even how to proceed in their wake. What’s the conclusion to a crisis that keeps snowballing with every victim, old and new, who comes forward? Cosby has now pulled out the proverbial big guns: He has retained the services of Hollywood bulldog attorney Marty Singer, writer of famed threatening letters. Singer has already lived up to his reputation; he sent such a letter to Buzzfeed Wednesday denying Dickinson’s allegations against Cosby.
Marty Singer is the same Hollywood lawyer who represented “X-Men” director Bryan Singer, who was the target of two lawsuits — eventually dropped — alleging he sexually abused underage boys (Marty and Bryan Singer are not related). One was filed by Michael Egan; the other by a plaintiff identified as John Doe 117. In August, the director was also the subject of an NYPD special victims squad investigation — a victim filed a complaint alleging Singer forcibly sexually assaulted him.
Hiring Marty Singer does not portend Cosby will go gently into that good night, even if he refuses to comment on the accusations that have engulfed his name, his legacy and his reputation.
The Associated Press could have preempted what will now be known as Cosby’s “NPR moment” had it chosen to release video of Cosby refusing to respond to sexual assault allegations, and then asking the reporter interviewing him to bury the non-response. The organization interviewed Cosby on camera Nov. 6, nine days before Scott Simon’s interview with Cosby aired on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday.”
When an AP reporter interviewing Cosby and his wife, Camille, asked Cosby about Hannibal Buress’s assertion Cosby was a rapist, Cosby said: “No, no. We don’t answer that.”
“I just wanted to ask if you wanted to respond at all if any of that was true,” the reporter said.
“There’s no response,” Cosby answered.
Later, Cosby made a request.
“Now, can I get something from you, that none of that will be shown?” he asked. And later: “I would appreciate it if it was scuttled.”
Off-camera, an AP producer assured Cosby his on-the-record refusal to respond wasn’t newsworthy. “I don’t think it has any value, either,” she said. That part of the interview was not released until Wednesday, after Tarshis and Dickinson came forward.
In a news story, the AP explained: “In recent days, as the allegations gained increasing attention, AP went back through the full video of the Nov. 6 interview and decided to publish Cosby’s full reaction to questions about the claims.”
The AP’s release came on the same day another member of the media, the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, issued a mea culpa for not pressing harder on the issue of Cosby’s rape allegations:
A voice in my head was, indeed, pushing me to do something more expansive and broader in its implication, something that did not just question Cosby’s moralizing, but weighed it against the acts which I believed he committed. But Cosby was such a big target that I thought it was only a matter of time before someone published a hard-hitting, investigative piece. And besides, I had in my hand the longest, best, and most personally challenging piece I’d ever written.
It was not enough.
I have often thought about how those women would have felt had they read my piece. The subject was morality—and yet one of the biggest accusations of immorality was left for a few sentences, was rendered invisible.
I don’t have many writing regrets. But this is one of them. I regret not saying what I thought of the accusations, and then pursuing those thoughts. I regret it because the lack of pursuit puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough. I take it as a personal admonition to always go there, to never flinch, to never look away.
As his accusers come forward publicly — or in Barbara Bowman’s case, reiterate already-public allegations — their decision to speak out may not brook criminal punishment for Cosby, but has engendered something else: a large-scale re-examination of the handling of the entire situation since Andrea Constand came forward in 2005. Perhaps an honest and thorough conversation about rape culture is what comes next.