The Implosion of Bill Cosby
The world is watching the career and reputation of comedian Bill Cosby disintegrate virtually overnight in a humiliating, seemingly-daily, public miniseries involving a flood of allegations, many decades old — but increasingly believable. Because there’s now a pattern.
A reported 17 women have (so far) come forward to allege he befriended them, drugged and/or incapacitated them and in varying forms had his way with them. NBC scuttled a planned Cosby show. Netflix deep-sixed a Cosby special. He resigned from his alma mater’s Board of Trustees, refunded some money, watched some key concert gigs be cancelled — and is now a symbol of exactly how NOT to handle a scandal.
Future generations of public relations professors will point to the Cosby case as perhaps the worst spin control since Adam and Eve tried to explain to the Big Guy upstairs why they bit that apple.
It seemed like an SNL parody when on NPR Cosby offered a looooooooooooong pause, no-comment silence when asked about the sexual assault allegations. Not saying a single thing to answer a radio interview question didn’t make sense, unless he’s planning to become a mime.
Any p.r. person or anyone in the news media will tell you that the w-o-r-s-t thing someone accused in a scandal can do is to not comment, as if they somehow felt the scandal would then die. It spurs on media coverage. Was this his p.r. team’s misguided idea? His lawyer’s? Or his? One of his p.r. people ought to get him in something like the “Bob Filner headlock” and explain the media facts of life to him.
San Diego’s resigned Mayor Filner’s case was somewhat akin to Cosby’s. Filner had been accused by a prominent, highly respected female staffer of sexual harassment. A slew of other accusations then followed. In Canada, CBC mega-star talk show host Jian Ghomeshi was arrested by police after being fired by the CBC and filing suit against them following an allegation about nonconsensual sexual violence — which triggered a tsunami of additional allegations from women.
The common denominator with all three cases is that each involves a powerful man who allegedly got away with behavior that would gotten us mere mortals in legal trouble. When one woman spoke out, new and old media spread the word so more stepped forward. Former model Jewell Allison, who, in an interview with The New York Daily News, alleged Cosby forced her hand on his genitals, told the paper: “We may be looking at America’s greatest serial rapist that ever got away with this for the longest amount of time.”
Why did nothing happen if so many women had been purportedly molested? Writing for The Daily Beast, Mark Ebner notes how in 2007 he did a story with many allegations about Cosby that fit a pattern. He wrote that Cosby would befriend young, talented women, seem interested in their careers, and they’d drink either spiked drinks or drugs passed off as medicine. Then something happened.
“People magazine even ran an article on the lawsuits that were settled with several of the women, but never followed up on it,” he wrote. “And from my own experience, I can confirm that the story shook people to the core: Even more than Woody Allen, Bill Cosby was a beloved figure and civil-rights pioneer; hardened editors were horrified at the prospect of taking him down. I might as well have pitched a story about Martin Luther King, Jr. philandering with white women. The story went nowhere.”
The reason: all power isn’t political.
There’s business power, the power of celebrity and the power that someone has to suggest he or she can open doors quickly for someone and really cares about them.
Bill Cosby’s attorney has put out strong statements blasting the allegations, correctly noting that they aren’t coming from people who ever sued or pressed charges. But the damage to Cosby is done, and the “public verdict” on him seems already in.
Two months ago, most Americans considered Bill Cosby the grand old man of comedy. Today, many Americans listen to these allegations from years past and consider him the dirty old man of show business.
And they don’t find it funny.
Copyright 2014 Joe Gandelman. This weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Bill Cosby [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons