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On The Media

Bill Cosby allegations proving damaging

By Ron Wynn


Few things are uglier to observe than public falls from grace, and that is precisely what's happened over the last few days to Bill Cosby. Earlier this year he was still widely viewed as a icon, a venerable comedian and celebrated pitchman who'd won numerous honors, and also someone who gave back to various causes and charities.


In fairness, there were also those unhappy with Cosby due to his public distaste for things he considered detrimental to the Black community, most notably the "sagging" pants issue, as well as what he deemed a poor work ethic and bad parental practices by some Black parents.


But all of that has been overshadowed by the possibility that a man once viewed as the personification of the American father has instead been a closet rapist who's used money and power to get away with a series of incidents that at best could be labeled sexual misconduct, and at worse rape. Over the last few days six different women have come forward to claim Cosby did everything from making inappropriate remarks to drugging their drinks and raping them, leaving them emotionally destroyed as well as physically abused.


What's made this both strange and intriguing and raised a lot of questions is none of these charges are new. For instance, Andrea Constant actually did go to court in 2005 and file a civil suit,  but nothing ever happened. This week the former DA on that case told the Associated Press he felt Cosby "probably did it," but there wasn't enough evidence in his view to proceed. The other cases go back as far as 1969 (Joan Tarshis) and others to the early 80s.


The statute of limitations on them has passed, which prevents any new prosecutions being launched, but the damage to Cosby's reputation has been considerable. First came a cancellation of a David Letterman appearance. Then in quick order were announcements by Netflix and NBC that plans for a 77th birthday special and new weekly sitcom were terminated. TV Land later announced they were pulling reruns of "The Cosby Show" effective immediately.


Not everyone deserted Cosby. Temple University announced he was remaining on their Board of Trustees and others who'd previously planned concert appearances said they would honor those contracts. But in the TV world, at least for now, Cosby's toxic in the minds of network executives and programmers.


Cosby supporters argue this is trial and conviction by media without a fair hearing. There have never been any formal criminal charges brought against him, and even some of the women who've made these allegations have taken money from him, including some publicly discussing their situations.


Why, Cosby fans ask, would all this suddenly happen, and why should the claims of any woman who didn't immediately come forward be believed after the fact. It also bothers them that a lot of this seems fueled by accusations made in a comedian's (Hannibal Burress) rant. Burress asked how could Cosby attack members of his generation for moral shortcomings when he's committed acts of rape? Those who want to see and/or hear Burress' Cosby monologue can certainly do so as it's become part of online lore, something that's led to accusations Burress elevated his career by making specious charges and outrageous claims with no valid proof to substantiate them.


Cosby has refused to answer any questions regarding the charges, both on National Public Radio and during an Associated Press interview with his wife Camille. AP later released the video where he declined to address the charges beyond a dismissal, urging the interviewer to honor his request and not keep asking about the allegations. CNN later aired the video, saying "the firestorm of controversy" around Cosby made it necessary to show it.


There are numerous positive things Bill Cosby has done throughout his career. These include hefty contributions to HBCU's, one of the largest collections of Black paintings in the world, efforts on behalf of literacy and Black history, benefits for community organizations, and his importance as one of the first Black entertainers to enjoy consistent and extensive mainstream success, while presenting positive images of both comedians and Black families.


Even his negative comments regarding Black culture arguably had good intentions, with Cosby attempting to impart what he considered positive alternatives to bad behavior. They may have been overdone and oversimplified, but he was offering what he felt were the lessons of a lifetime that had its own rough beginnings. As someone who overcame poverty and eventually earned a doctorate in education, he has been determined to present his views and philosophy, even when depicted as dismissive of contemporary youth.


But none of that trumps or excuses borderline criminal conduct. What has made the Cosby situation so problematic is the absence of indictments or trials. Given how women are treated in court when they make these allegations it is understandable why they are reluctant to come forward. But if no one gets tried for anything, all that's left is allegations, which is the case here. But the probability of multiple women from different backgrounds making the same charges all lying is slim. Still, there is nothing on the record except one case.


Legally, everyone is innocent until tried and found guilty in a court of law. But in today's world, when multiple charges are made, lots of folk believe them until shown they are false. Whatever Bill Cosby has or hasn't done, many who once admired and respected him no longer do so. Others remain unconvinced he's done anything wrong,  and see this media (and in particular social media) pronouncing sentence prematurely.


Only time will tell how much this furor affects Bill Cosby. His artistic legacy is secure. But his personal one's become murky. 


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