Update: Since this column ran on Monday, former model Janice Dickinson has come forward with rape allegations against Bill Cosby; Netflix postponed the Cosby stand-up special originally scheduled for next week; and NBC pulled the plug on Cosby’s sitcom pilot.
I often say Cliff and Clair Huxtable helped raise a generation of kids — Cosby kids.
But in the past 30 years we’ve all grown enough to know that our favorite TV dad is not Bill Cosby. And it’s time we pay serious attention to the decades worth of rape allegations against the iconic actor.
Women have been struggling to tell their stories since 1969, but the media didn’t catch on until 2006. It was then that 13 women came forward in support of Andrea Constand, the former director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater. She says Cosby drugged her and sexually assaulted her. He settled her civil lawsuit out of court.
Cosby has faced no criminal charges. But that settlement seems like hush money considering it kept the other women from testifying. And still, the public seemed content with Cosby’s denial and an apology to his wife. Never mind the victims, as long as the Cliff Huxtable image is intact.
Until now. Despite more than a dozen women speaking out, it was comedian Hannibal Buress who gave the story weight last month. The comic joked about Cosby’s comfort critiquing the young black generation despite his laundry list of allegations. All it took was a video, Google and a handful of hashtags before a viral conversation started.
Last week, Cosby’s website tried to distract everyone with a Cosby meme generator (now removed). Failed: Twitter told the celebrated actor and comedian how everyone feels about his predatory reputation. Images of Cosby with captions like “My two favorite things: Jello pudding and rape” took over timelines.
By Thursday, actress Barbara Bowman, one of the 13 women prepared to testify in the civil suit, shared her first-person story with the Washington Post.
“I was staying in a separate bedroom of Cosby’s hotel suite, but he pinned me down in his own bed while I screamed for help,” she writes. “I’ll never forget the clinking of his belt buckle as he struggled to pull his pants off.”
Another woman, publicist Joan Tarshis, came forward Monday detailing a harrowing account of Cosby that sounded like “Law & Order: SVU.” For now, no criminal action can be taken because the statute of limitations has passed.
Bowman wonders why it took a male comic for the stories to finally be taken seriously.
It’s a sad but simple truth: We’ve been Cosby-washed. During its eight-year run, “The Cosby Show” was one of the most-watched series on television, smashing the welfare mom, crack-pushing, deadbeat dad stereotypes. We hang on to the Huxtables because they didn’t just make us laugh. Their show was an explosion of family and culture.
It wasn’t simply a “black show.” The Huxtables were an American family, and we aspired to be like them. When Denise went off to college, I knew I was going to one day go to college, too.
Still, that was television. In the real world, 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. More than half of rapes go unreported, and 97 percent of rapists never go to jail.
Are we really surprised that Netflix has yet to pull Bill Cosby’s Nov. 28 special? Or NBC is declining to comment on a pending pilot for another Cosby family comedy? No, this is one of America’s favorite TV dads, a moral compass. He just can’t be the bad guy.
But face it, America, he very well could be.
“He’s not the fictional Dr. Huxtable or the Jell-O salesman,” Tamara Green, retired attorney and another one of the 13 women, told People. “This is Bill Cosby who for years felt entitled because of his status as a celebrity and because for years he was above the law. And he’ll always be a small man because a great man would embrace his faults as well as his talents.”
Cosby refuses to answer questions about these allegations. On Saturday, he shook his head when NPR’s Scott Simon asked him about the accusations.
Sunday, an attorney posted this statement to Cosby’s website: “Over the last several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true. Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment.”
Cliff Huxtable can speak about dignity. But Bill Cosby can have a Coke and a smile and, if justice were served as often as soda, he would get what he really deserves.