• author
    • Kelvin Wade

      Columnist
    • November 18, 2014 in Columnists

    Cliff Huxtable is no rapist but Bill Cosby may be

    Comedian Bill Cosby is a rapist, Barbara Bowman asserts in an Op Ed in the Washington Post. For the past 10 years, Bowman has been speaking out about her abuse at the hands of Cosby with little public interest. When comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby a rapist in his act in a club in Philadelphia last month, it went viral, sparking new interest in the allegations. When Cosby’s publicist wanted fans to meme a photo of the comedian last week, some fans responded by producing photos with messages about Cosby’s alleged rapes. Cosby refused to answer the charges on NPR over the weekend and a spokesman later issued a statement denying the allegations and announcing there will be no further word from the Cos on the subject.

    So why is everyone suddenly interested in this news that first became public a decade ago? Why did it take so long to settle into the public consciousness?

    Maybe it’s because we like him. It’s natural to give leeway to family and friends that we wouldn’t extend to anyone else. When grandma drops a racial slur, we rationalize it by saying that she’s old and was raised that way. When our son is accused of disrupting class at school, we believe him when he says the teacher is singling him out. If a friend or family member is in a legal bind, we give them the benefit of the doubt when we would trash a stranger in the same position.

    When it comes to celebrities, that feeling is heightened. Though we don’t know Bill Cosby, we grew up with his records and Saturday morning cartoon. Noah. The water bottle. Old Weird Harold. Fat Albert. We watched the Cosby Show and saw Cosby emerge as America’s dad. Most of us have seen the Jell-O commercials (or comedians imitating Cosby doing the Jell-O commercials). And the man does stand up comedy without being vulgar. Wholesomeness has been Cosby’s brand.

    So when allegations of sexual assault arose, it didn’t fit. Mike Tyson? Rick James? We can believe that. But Mr. Jell-O Pudding Pop drugging and raping women? No. Cosby has been in our homes on records and television. He’s like our uncle. He’s family.

    Also, in 2004, Cosby reinvented himself as a national scold with the “Pound Cake Speech” during an NAACP event commemorating Brown v. Education. Cosby told young black men to pull their pants up and blasted poor parents for not doing a better job. People happy that Cosby was speaking out on something they agreed with somehow managed to dismiss the fact that the same man who was checking others’ behavior was himself accused of much, much worse.

    To be fair, there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of allegations concerning celebrities because rich people are vulnerable to shakedowns. In fact, on the same day Cosby’s son Ennis was murdered in 1997, Autumn Jackson attempted to extort $40 million from the comedian claiming she was his daughter. Jackson and her co-defendants went to prison. So when the rape allegations came up years ago, perhaps that made it easier for folks to dismiss them as more accusations from money hungry people.

    However when Andrea Constand alleged Cosby assaulted her in 2005, she wasn’t standing alone. It was leaked that 13 Jane Does also alleging assault by Cosby would testify during the trial. There turned out to be no trial when Cosby settled.

    Why would over a dozen women, who don’t know each other, claim to be assaulted by Cosby? Why would their stories sound eerily similar, with Cosby spiking an alcoholic beverage or giving them “herbal” pills and they awaken, nude? What motive would they have when only one of them sued Cosby? And the Jane Does have revealed themselves over the years. Bowman, Tamara Green, Beth Ferrier and now, another woman, Joan Tarshis, has come forward claiming Cosby drugged and raped her when she was 19 in 1969. I suspect more victims will come forward in the coming days.

    This many accusers over such a wide time-frame are deeply troubling. A man drugging women to assault them is sick. Doing so while putting on a Saturday morning cartoon for kids, scolding other comedians for using profanity and taking black parents to the woodshed is a monstrous arrogance. If Cosby can be placed with these women at the times they say they were with him that will be damning, especially if he continues to say nothing.

    So why has the dam broken and it appears at least a large percentage of the public has turned against Cosby? I don’t believe it’s because a man, Hannibal Buress, made the allegations. Part of it is that there may be younger people who never knew about the allegations and are just finding out about them.

    But the big reason is because society has changed. There have always been scandals and allegations but today’s hyper-connected world has changed the playing field. The Internet is forever. The wall between fans and celebrities has crumpled down as fans now directly interact with celebs through social media. You don’t only hear of scandals or bad behavior, you see it and hear it.

    We’ve heard audio of Mel Gibson screaming racial epithets. We’ve seen Michael Kramer’s meltdown. We witness Justin Bieber acting like a spoiled prick. We can hear Alec Baldwin and Jonah Hill use gay slurs on YouTube. With the Internet and ubiquitous cell phones, we often get to see behind the scenes into stars’ lives and the results are often unflattering.

    Social media has made the world smaller and stars dimmer. More than ever, the public sees celebrities more as regular people than untouchable demigods. More and more people are realizing that just because we listen to someone’s music or watch their TV show, it doesn’t mean we know them.

    Nothing brings this home more than the shocking suicide of Robin Williams. We don’t know these people and can’t vouch for their character or know what’s in their hearts or what they do behind closed doors.

    It’s not surprising to me that Barbara Bowen couldn’t get anyone to believe her allegations 25 to 30 years ago. Who would’ve believed that Cliff Huxtable could be capable of drugging women and raping them? That’s crazy.

    But in 2014, Cliff Huxtable is just an old role. And while those records were funny and kids do need to pull up their pants, I don’t know who Bill Cosby is.

    The statute of limitations is up on the known claims against Bill Cosby. He can’t be prosecuted. And while in a court of law, he is presumed innocent, Bill will find the court of public opinion operates by different rules. Cosby can continue refusing to answer the allegations, but I think more and more people will respond by not buying his concert tickets and not watching his programs.

    Still others will continue to support Cosby, hanging their hat on the fact that these are just allegations. I understand it. Like I said, Cosby has become almost like family to his fans. But I don’t think anyone can not be troubled by the number and details from these women. People still love Michael Jackson with fans saying the late singer was never convicted of molestation. That’s true. But I bet you wouldn’t have left your kids with him.

    I grew up listening to Cosby albums. I watched the cartoons. I enjoyed the Cosby Show. I don’t know for sure he’s a rapist. But I know I wouldn’t let my girlfriend drink anything he prepared for her.



    • Numbers speak. Even if you factor out a percentage as questionable (in a court of law) the testimonials remaining remove any doubt in my book. Yes, in a perfect world it should only take one accusation, but Cosby himself is proof that we do not live in that kind of world.


        • Kelvin

        • November 18, 2014 at 6:02 pm
        • Reply

        True. It’s what I look for. Multiple women telling a similar story over a span of a quarter century in this case. Over the years I’ve often wondered why those allegations didn’t take hold. But I think people couldn’t believe it against Cos. Now with the women coming forward and Cosby refusing to defend himself people will rethink it.


      • Maya North

      • November 18, 2014 at 8:23 pm
      • Reply

      I agree. Multiple women with nearly identical stories — and these are not women who are coming forward for any profit motive. As you said, the statute of limitations is long up. He can’t be prosecuted. They aren’t going to sue. This culture is still one of rape victim shaming, so the price of coming forward won’t necessarily be an easy one to pay. You could argue that this is the pattern of an arrogant celebrity, but what I’m seeing is a sexual predator who was canny and cagy and avoided doing something stupid like victimizing women he would remain close to — like the ones with whom he worked. I read something about how he referred to Spanish Fly years ago — at least one mention was apparently on one of his records and the writer — I wish I could remember who it was — found it jarring that he would talk about that. So do I believe he did it? Yeah, I’m afraid so. Am I saddened? Absolutely — the same way I was after realizing the sweet old neighborhood grandfather I loved so much had just stuck his finger in my underpants — devastated and betrayed. You really don’t know who the monster is until he or she takes off the mask.



    • Oh hell! Say it ain’t so!



    • Sadness. He was one of the “go to” icons to feel good and right about the world. I HATE to have to believe this. But, as you’ve laid it out, is there much other choice? As for Michael Jackson – I still don’t believe it. I think he was mentally ill and trying to BE a child again, the poor tortured soul. I don’t believe the sexual allegations.
      But COSBY? Say it ain’t so.
      Please?


        • Kelvin

        • November 20, 2014 at 11:32 am
        • Reply

        It’s hard. As for Michael Jackson, I think he was obviously screwed up. But if you take all of the allegations against him and his admitted having little boys sleep in his bed and applied it to a guy living on your street, I don’t think you’d be as sympathetic. I get it. I listen to MJs music because we have an emotional connection to music. I still watch Roman Polanski movies (‘The Pianist’ was excellent) but I know he raped a child. Football icon from my childhood is a murderer, my fave boxer goes to prison for rape, one of my favorite radio hosts Bernie Ward goes to prison for child porn, Woody Allen (who I like better as director than actor) is accused of molestation, Michael Jackson, and now Bill Cosby…. Is it that hard to make it through life without committing a felony??? Obviously, the victims are what matters. But when someone who has added joy to your life does something horrendous, there’s a feeling of betrayal. Now if I see an old Fat Albert cartoon or even see Cosby all I think about is rape. Maybe I’m a big hypocrite but when I watch a Roman Polanski movie maybe I don’t think about it because I’m not seeing him onscreen. It just sucks. Sucks for the victims and sucks for fans. No winners.



        • Yes, it does suck. AND… it’s a statement on how empty these hugely successful people really are. It’s another twist on the Robin Williams suicide. No matter how rich and famous you get, and in fact… become as rich and famous as is possible, in the case of Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby and Robin Williams… they’re still empty inside. They are still looking for something else. There are legions of gold-diggers out there who would have accommodated Bill Cosby. He didn’t need to turn to force.
          Michael – I still stand by his innocence. He’s not just any guy on the street. I believe he had a mental collapse and in his head, BECAME a child again. Children sleep together. He was desperate for that innocence, of which he was robbed. I will always stand by Michael.
          Bill Cosby, though… WOW, that stings. Like you, he is part of my life, from the vinyl albums I played over and over again in childhood (I can probably recite “Noah” and “Fat Albert” by heart) to the Fat Albert cartoon, to The Cosby Show, which made you feel good no matter what, to stand-up comedy, which I had the joy of seeing once – he’s part of our fabric. You are right… it feels like such a betrayal.



    • “I don’t believe it’s because a man, Hannibal Buress, made the allegations…But the big reason is because society has changed.”

      Right, the world has changed *so much* since Feb 2014 when a female Slate writer wrote about it (http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/02/13/bill_cosby_sexual_assault_allegations_why_isn_t_anyone_paying_attention.html)
      and so much from September 2014 when a female Buzzfeed author wrote about it (http://www.buzzfeed.com/kateaurthur/the-new-bill-cosby-biography-doesnt-mention-the-past-sexual)
      and so much since the multiple *actual victims* have been speaking about it nonstop for decades.
      Get your head out of the sand and call out sexist media bullshit when you see it instead of trying to make excuses for it.


        • Kelvin

        • December 2, 2014 at 11:48 pm
        • Reply

        If you want to believe there was some conspiracy to keep this story under wraps by “sexist media bullshit” you’re entitled to believe it. The case in 2005 wasn’t a secret. The 13 anonymous women coming forward were reported at the time. But anyone with a pulse should realize that it’s nearly impossible to predict what’s going to strike a chord with the American public. If it just took a penis for the charges to take off then how come it didn’t explode when Matt Lauer (a male) interviewed a victim on national television in February 2005? (http://www.today.com/id/6945190/ns/today/t/second-cosby-accuser-why-she-came-forward/#.VH67bTSCOK0) or when Alex Tresniowski (a male) wrote about it in People in December 2006 (http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20059561,00.html). And Burress had been doing the Cosby bit in his standup for six months. Video of Burress’ video went viral and that drew attention to it but it doesn’t explain why so many are taking it seriously now when people have been speaking out and writing about it for years. Saying it’s just because a man talked about it may make some people feel good but the case for that falls apart rather quickly. R&B singer R. Kelly allegedly raped and urinated on a minor on videotape and his career has been largely unaffected. There are many more stories of underage statutory rape by R Kelly out there. For some reason the public has looked past them. Perhaps one day his alleged crimes may reach critical mass. Who knows? It’s hard to predict how the public responds in situations like this.



      • At some point… the mere numbers of complaints cannot be ignored. All these women, from all these different places, from different points in time… all saying the same thing.



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