by Jacquelyn DeLauder
In a court of law the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” is heralded as the truth yet, in practice, the accused is often guilty until proven innocent. Public figures are blamed and slandered for any little misstep despite the fact that they may not have committed the act or crime of which they have been accused. Dr. William Henry Cosby, Jr. (more commonly known as Bill Cosby) is a celebrity whose name has been dragged through the mud by the media. Reports of his alleged misdeeds can be found on numerous websites, and the list of people that defend or praise the good he has done have swiftly diminished as his legal troubles are debated in the court of public opinion. Phylicia Rashad, one of Bill Cosby’s few defenders and former costars, provides one of the most insightful observations about the ongoing battle raging in the public eye. Rashad stated, “[t]hese brand new claims about alleged decades-old events are becoming increasingly ridiculous, and it is completely illogical that so many people would have said nothing, done nothing, and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years (“Phylicia Rashad Breaks Silence”). Rashad worked with Bill Cosby for many years on more than one project. She had to spend many hours with Cosby and has not accused him of any wrongdoing. A woman that has worked side by side with Cosby refuses to smear his name. That in and of itself is food for thought.
The major issue surrounding Bill Cosby is that an incredibly high number of women have called him out as a perpetrator of sex crimes. Over 50 women have come forward to proclaim that they were taken advantage of by Bill Cosby. They claim that he drugged them and proceeded to sexually assault them. Also, some of the women mention that they were unaware that Cosby had placed drugs in their drinks. Most of the cases are past the statute of limitations which precludes Cosby from being charged with a crime in those instances. Due to the fact that he has not been convicted of a crime this question remains, does Bill Cosby deserve the intense backlash that has ravaged his image and destroyed his chances at pursuing gainful employment in the entertainment community? If a person is accused of a crime they may not be guilty of said crime. Unfortunately, an accusation is often tantamount to actual guilt (Ioannou et al.).
Bill Cosby has been accused of a crime by a large number of people. However, due to the fact that Bill Cosby has not been convicted of a crime, I do not believe that people should be so quick to judge him and discount all of the positive contributions he has made to society. No definitive evidence of his purported crimes have surfaced and because of this his guilt should not be presumed. I will defend Bill Cosby since the proof of his transgressions have not surfaced and in the eyes of the law he is still innocent. To achieve this, I will provide an examination of his background, his positive contributions to diversity in entertainment, the incongruities of his accuser’s stories, the affect this event has had on him and his family, and his philanthropy through a multitude of different organizations (Puente).
Let’s start by taking a look at Cosby’s background which helped spur him toward success in later years. As a child, Bill Cosby was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his three younger brothers. His family was not wealthy and began to suffer financially after his father devolved into a state of alcoholism. Following the struggles that his father’s drinking placed on his family, William Cosby Sr. (Bill Cosby’s father) joined the navy, which left Bill as the family’s caretaker in the absence of their patriarch. Their financial issues led to Bill’s family having to move into low-income housing and Cosby having to work at the tender age of 9. Cosby had to shoulder the responsibilities of an adult before most people are expected to. At such a young age he was already demonstrating the qualities of a caring and responsible family-man (“Bill Cosby Biography”).
His education was also fraught with setbacks and difficulties. Bill Cosby’s education did not follow a linear path. He was an intelligent child that impressed others with his ability to craft stories. However, he lacked the desire to perform to the best of his ability in school. He eventually dropped out of school after he discovered that he would be held back. Bill eventually completed a diploma equivalency program after he joined the navy. Despite his lack of a traditional diploma, Bill was eventually able to obtain a Doctorate of education by writing a thesis about an animated show that he created (Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids). He managed to transform a poor start into a successful finish. Cosby’s background would lead you to believe that he would have eventually given up on education. Rather, Cosby turned his experiences into success (“Bill Cosby Biography.”).
The entertainer pushed past the boundaries that his race created and defied expectations to become successful. Cosby was a comedian and actor that blazed trails for African-Americans in entertainment. He garnered the role of a lifetime in a show called I Spy. He was a main character in the series during the era of the civil rights movement when black men often had small, stereotypical roles. What was even more impressive was that the show was successful. Cosby proved that a black man could take on an important role and the show could still be relevant. The African-American culture looked to Cosby as a symbol of positive change. The Cosby Show, arguably his most famous series to date, followed the lives of a middle-class African-American family. This series also changed the landscape by attracting audiences of multiple races which propelled it to become a ratings giant in the 1980s (“Bill Cosby Biography”).
Bill Cosby was an iconic entertainer with strong ties to institutions of higher education that he supported by making millions of dollars in philanthropic donations. With a background like this one, it is hard to imagine that Cosby would be guilty of raping over 50 women during the span of his career (Ioannou et al.). Would a man that has such an intense interest in educating and providing funding for people of both genders participate in such horrible crimes? His philanthropy has allowed many students to receive funding for their college degrees in the form of scholarships. Universities and other recipients of Cosby and his wife Camille’s generosity have not relinquished any funding or gifts that they have received from them. Instead, Cosby has been asked to step down from multiple positions on different university boards and his name has been removed from scholarships that his philanthropy has sponsored. While recipients of funds and other gifts from Cosby have not returned the money he bestowed upon them, these institutions have instead disassociated themselves from him (Puente).
The sacrificial lamb of powerful men that may have abused their privileges is Bill Cosby. Now that he has aged and has less pull in the entertainment world, his accusers have come out of the woodwork. It seems that once the tide of public opinion shifted against Cosby, more and more people began to point fingers of mistrust at him. The media has successfully lambasted the poor beleaguered philanthropist and ruin his once good name. ABC news reported that Cosby’s former costar, “[Phylicia] Rashad, who played Cosby’s wife on TV for more than a decade starting in the 1980’s, said she never saw any behavior that could lead her to believe the allegations that resurfaced … after being dormant for more than a decade”(“Phylicia Rashad Breaks Silence”). Statements like these from people that know him the best are still not enough to stem the avalanche of hate directed at the actor. Even though Cosby is a family man, it appears that the repercussions his children and spouse will face due to media coverage have not been considered. By sacrificing Cosby, the media is also sacrificing the well-being of his family. They will forever be associated with the man that supposedly sexually assaulted women. As long as Cosby’s story remains a viable news story, he will not be the only one that is suffers the consequences for his perceived misconduct.
Incidentally, all of the positive contributions Bill Cosby has made in society have been ignored by the masses that once lauded his generosity and achievements. As I mentioned previously, Cosby’s donations have not been returned and yet none of the institutions he has helped have provided any words of support. Instead, he has been tossed aside as if he was not worth the time of his beneficiaries (Puente). While it may seem understandable why universities and institutions were warranted in turning their backs on Cosby, they have neglected to consider a glaring issue. Bill Cosby has not been convicted of any crime. His guilt has been assumed and debated outside of a court of law. His reputation has been almost irrevocably damaged as a result of mere accusations. Here is something to think about: what if a person is accused of lying by a friend and immediately everyone believes their accuser? It would be an injustice, a travesty that would haunt the accused. It does not matter that the he or she may have been innocent. Once the person is accused, their integrity is immediately called into question as the guilt or innocence of the aforementioned is decided by their peers. Cosby’s situation mirrors this scenario with friends and enemies alike weighing in on this situation while support for him rapidly diminishes.
Some detractors of Bill Cosby may cite the sheer number of alleged victims that have come forward to make claims against the actor, but they neglect to recognize that sheer numbers do not indicate truthfulness. One instance that damages the credibility of Cosby’s accusers was the case of Chloe Goins. Her accusations were similar to that of other alleged victims, but her testimony was full of holes that cast doubt on the veracity of her claims. According to information extracted from an article by Patricia Dickson, “…Chloe Goins claimed that Mr. Cosby sexually assaulted her at the Playboy mansion on August 9, 2008” (Dickson). Contrary to this assertion, Cosby’s team was able to produce documentation that placed him in New York instead of the Playboy mansion like she claimed rendering it impossible for him to have perpetrated the crime (Dickson). Her case alone should give you pause and make you look closer at the situation surrounding Cosby and his accusers. Truly if so many women had been assaulted by “America’s favorite dad” then why did all of them wait so long to pursue any sort of justice?
Celebrities and regular everyday people alike have participated in the mudslinging that has, in some cases, proven to be erroneous. Two particular celebrities are Janice Dickinson and Beverly Johnson. They are both former supermodels that were at one time acquainted with Bill Cosby. Previously, the women recounted stories of their encounters with Cosby that were benign (Dickson). It seems that when droves of women began accusing Bill Cosby of wrongdoing, the two former models also wanted to throw their hats in the ring. All of a sudden they had new stories that painted Cosby in a sinister light and provided star power to the crusade to bring him down.
When you take a step back from the overwhelming number of women that have accused Cosby it is easy to see that some, if not all, of his accusers could have lied about their interactions with him. At this point, the fact the Bill Cosby’s legacy and career have been destroyed is a moot point. Without any sort of conviction, the accusations have effectively ruined an old man’s positive effects and contributions to entertainment and education. Although I cannot say whether he has committed the crimes people have charged him with, the one thing I am certain of is that he is not guilty just because he has been accused. In summation, Bill Cosby may not be guilty of this crime and it would be prudent to take a look at the whole case before immediately starting to condemn him.
“Bill Cosby Biography.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.
Dickson, Patricia L. “Examining Bill Cosby’s Accusers.” Articles: Examining Bill Cosby’s Accusers. American Thinker, 5 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.
Ioannou, Filipa, Ben Mathis-Lilley, and Elliot Hannon. “A Complete List of the Women Who Have Accused Bill Cosby of Sexual Assault.” Browbeat Slate’s Culture Blog. The Slate Group. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.
Leap, Hannah. “Critical Reading Analysis: Ebony Vs. People Magazine.” State College Chronicle. 16 July 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
“Phylicia Rashad Breaks Silence on Bill Cosby Allegations.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 7 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Mar. 2016.
Puente, Maria. “Cosby’s Philanthropy Also Affected by Rape Claims.” USA Today. Gannett, 27 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.