What can Bill Cosby say now?
It’s been years since the first women alleging Cosby of sexual assault came forward, months since the conversation and investigation around those claims started up again, and days since yet another accuser joined the ever-growing list of professed victims. Though he may never see his day in a court of law, Cosby has surely been tried and found guilty by many in the court of public opinion. Does he have anything to say in his defense?
In the Page Six exclusive, “Upbeat Cosby expects ‘black media’ to stay neutral,” Cosby tells a reporter: “Let me say this. I only expect the black media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism and when you do that you have to go in with a neutral mind.”
Cosby sounds like someone trying to make himself the victim instead of 20 women he allegedly victimized. He is framing his narrative as one in which he is being treated unfairly. And maybe this choice seems strategic to Cosby’s camp, as he has long enjoyed the benefit of the doubt; a widespread willingness to gloss over the long-public assertions against him as impossible-to-prove, “he said, she said” claims has persisted for decades. There are pockets of society where Cosby’s face is still a welcome sight. Judging by Cosby’s tweets of gratitude, Whoopi Goldberg and Jill Scott have stood by his side. In mid-October, weeks after this latest round of attention on rape allegations against Cosby began, the star was a guest at the 50th Anniversary Gala of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, where an art exhibit loan from Cosby’s family, “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue,” remains on display.
Yet Cosby apparently still believes that he’s getting an unfair shake from the journalists he expects to support him the most, a conviction that ignores vital elements of the recent coverage of his case. To start: it was Hannibal Buress, a black comedian, whose stand-up set sparked this second wave of commentary.
Cosby could be alluding to the ethnicity of the majority of his public accusers. Of the 19 women who have identified themselves as Cosby’s victims to date, most are white, including Barbara Bowman, who the Washington Post op-ed about the renewed attention in accusations against Cosby; Tamara Green, who came forward with her alleged sexual assault in 2005; Andrea Constand, who filed a suit against Cosby that was settled in 2006; Beth Ferrier, who went public as Jane Doe no. 5 in Constand’s suit in 2006; Joan Tarshis, supermodel Janice Dickinson, who told her story on Entertainment Tonight less than a month ago; Kristina Ruehli, who was a 22-year-old secretary at the time of her reported assault; Carla Ferrigno, a former Playboy bunny; Therese Serignese, another of the Jane Does from Constand’s civil suit; Victoria Valentino, a former Playboy Playmate.
But last month, three women of color came forward to accuse Cosby: Renita Chaney Hill, a co-star of Cosby’s on Picture Pages, alleges that she was drugged and assaulted by Cosby multiple times when she was a teenager, actress Angela Leslie, who described being drugged and molested by Cosby in 1992, and Jewel Allison, an ex-model who told the New York Daily News that Cosby sexually abused her in the 1980s. the most recent high-profile woman to publicly accuse Cosby of wrongdoing is supermodel, Beverly Johnson, who in 1974 was the first African-American woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue in 1974. In her first-person account, published in Vanity Fair last Thursday, Johnson describes how race factored into her decision to keep her story to herself for so long:
In fact, as I thought of going public with what follows, a voice in my head kept whispering, “Black men have enough enemies out there already, they certainly don’t need someone like you, an African American with a familiar face and a famous name, fanning the flames.”
What she goes on to describe will be sickening yet familiar to anyone who has been reading the claims against Cosby: he invited her to audition for a role on The Cosby Show, he insisted she take a drink (in her case, a cappuccino) that she quickly realized was drugged. Years later, as more and more women described similarly horrifying encounters with Cosby, Johnson “still struggled with how to reveal my big secret, and more importantly, what would people think when and if I did? Would they dismiss me as an angry black woman intent on ruining the image of one of the most revered men in the African American community over the last 40 years?” Even as she read Bowman and Dickinson’s accounts, Johnson wrote, “the current plight of the black male was behind my silence.”
Cosby seems to believe he is owed a greater benefit of the doubt from black media than his accusers do. But as Johnson points out, “women of color face an even higher attack rate” than white women do. (According to the CDC, approximately 22 percent of black women in the U.S. have experienced rape at some point in their lives, compared to 18.8 percent of white women.)
This two-sentence declaration has been reported as Cosby “breaking his silence,” although that reads like a generous take on this non-response to the multitude of serious allegations made against the comedian. Also, the notion that Cosby has been “silent” up to this point is a false one; though Cosby and his legal team have repeatedly said he will not comment on these cases, they continue to issue both written and verbal rebuttals responding to accusations as they arise.
So Cosby has “broken his silence” on race. But he still hasn’t said anything about rape.
According to CBS, Bill Cosby’s wife, Camille, has issued a statement comparing the coverage of her husband to the fallout from the Rolling Stone feature on rape at UVA. She wrote: “None of us will ever want to be in the position of attacking a victim. But the question should be asked – who is the victim?” Read the full statement here.