Originally published in The American Interest, December 9, 2014
In October, when I began reading Bill Cosby: His Life and Times, by Mark Whitaker, the 77-year-old comedian was enjoying a bit of a boom: a new television series in the works, a new special set to get the Netflix treatment, an exhibition at the Smithsonian of 62 works of African-American art collected by Cosby and his wife Camille, not to mention this grand review of the man’s long and eventful life, written by an esteemed journalist who had been managing editor of CNN and the top editor of Newsweek.
Now, Cosby’s reputation has plummeted with terminal velocity. During a performance on October 15th, a comedian named Hannibal Burress said that Cosby had the “smuggest old black man public persona that I hate. He 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 rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches. ‘I don’t curse onstage.’ Well, yeah, you’re rapist.” Burress was referring to allegations made by several women that Cosby had drugged and raped them, accusations that had been public for several years but that were nevertheless not well known. But in the uproar that followed, more women stepped forward, bringing the number of accusers to 19. No criminal charges were ever filed, and the one accuser who sued Cosby settled out of court. But in their staggering number and incriminating similarity, in the emotional strength behind the stories told, the accusations have a cold credibility. Perhaps under cross-examination all these stories would blow away like fairy dust. But in this era of media-accelerated justice, where Donald Sterling lost his business in a week because comments made in the privacy of his home were surreptitiously recorded, the presumption of innocence is a flimsy thing. Cosby has been judged guilty in the court of public opinion of being a serial rapist. Any comeback that he might achieve at this point would rival the Resurrection.
To read the entire review, click here.