Tom Leonard, Daily Mail, November 20, 2014
The silence was excruciating. Bill Cosby and Camille, his wife of 50 years, were sitting in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, surrounded by valuable works of African art from their private collection, lent for an exhibition.
Moments earlier, the veteran American TV star had been basking in adulation. His generosity had been praised in Saturday’s interview for National Public Radio, America’s equivalent of Radio 4. Then the conversation took an ugly turn.
‘This question gives me no pleasure,’ began presenter Scott Simon, before asking Cosby about ‘serious accusations raised against you in recent days’.
He didn’t need to spell out what they were.
America has been stunned as several women have come forward to accuse Cosby of drugging and raping them in a series of incidents over several decades. Some allegedly took place when his sitcom The Cosby Show ruled U.S. TV and its star was held up as a model of wholesome family values.
After a pause for 77-year-old Cosby to respond, Simon said: ‘You’re shaking your head . . . I have to ask the question–do you have a response to those charges?’
Simon tried twice more–and there were two more significant pauses–before he gave up and thanked the couple. Only Mrs Cosby, with whom the star has five children, thanked Simon in return.
More was to come. On Tuesday, model and reality TV star Janice Dickinson accused Cosby of raping her, claiming she was attacked after a dinner at a Californian resort in 1982.
Dickinson, 59, said Cosby gave her a pill and a glass of wine after she complained of stomach pains. The last thing she recalled before passing out, she alleged, was ‘Bill Cosby in a patchwork robe, dropping his robe and getting on top of me. And I remember a lot of pain’.
Cosby’s lawyer has denied the allegations, calling her story ‘a complete lie’.
But a day after Dickinson spoke out, Therese Serignese became the seventh woman to say publicly that Cosby sexually assaulted her. She said she was a starstruck 19-year-old when he chatted her up in a Las Vegas hotel, before giving her powerful tranquiliser pills. She alleged she came round to find they were having sex and accused him of ‘using his fame and power to come after people’s innocence’.
Last night, the wife of Incredible Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno became the latest to publicly accuse Cosby of sexual assault. Carla Ferrigno claimed he grabbed her and forcibly kissed her when she was a teenager at his house after a double date in 1967, before she pushed him off.
Millions of shocked fans and admirers are now watching the rapid disintegration of the reputation of the man once dubbed ‘America’s Dad’.
Famous supporters, such as actress Whoopi Goldberg, have leapt to Cosby’s defence, but broadcasters are running scared. NBC has scrapped plans to make a new family sitcom featuring the comic and the internet streaming service Netflix has ‘postponed’ a comedy special starring him.
The idea that such a prominent black role model, who tours the country lecturing African Americans on the importance of family, has feet of clay is almost too painful to contemplate in a racially divided America.
Praised by presidents and courted by corporations, Cosby became indistinguishable from the man he played on The Cosby Show–Dr Cliff Huxtable, the loving patriarch of a middle-class family in New York.
The NBC show, then the most popular on U.S. TV, ran from 1984 to 1992. In Britain, it was one of Channel 4’s most popular shows, ground-breaking in portraying black people in a happy family that was affluent and successful.
That many Americans are hearing for the first time there may be a sinister side to Bill Cosby is testament, say some, to the power of his PR machine and the reluctance of the establishment to criticise him.
For many of these accusations were first made nearly ten years ago. How could this have happened?
One possible explanation lies in the way that interviewer Scott Simon was then hounded on social media for ‘ambushing’ Cosby.
Many might wonder if it’s ever wrong to bring up repeated accusations of rape but, astonishingly, they have been barely mentioned over the years. Cosby has always rejected the claims against him, and has never been charged over them–let alone convicted.
A new authorised biography didn’t refer to the allegations once, and nor did its review in the liberal New York Times, which praised it as ‘wonderfully thorough’.
The same glaring omission was repeated in Cosby’s recent TV interviews to mark the upcoming 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show. Chatshow host Stephen Colbert instead gushed: ‘I’m going to say something controversial. I think you’re great.’
Even when, a few years ago, Cosby was promoting a campaign for better behaviour in the black community, interviewers including Oprah Winfrey didn’t deign to mention the subject.
In recent days, several U.S. journalists admitted their attempts to publicise the allegations were spiked by editors who were, as one put it, ‘horrified at the prospect of taking down’ a ‘beloved figure and civil rights pioneer’.
Footage has also emerged of an interview Cosby gave a few days ago, before the latest claims, to the Associated Press news agency, in which the star tried to shame the reporter for daring to bring up the allegations. ‘I don’t talk about it,’ he said.
Some have suggested that fear of being labelled racist may have protected him. ‘I recognise Bill Cosby as a comedic genius, and black people–with good reason–don’t throw away our geniuses,’ said black academic Brittney Cooper. ‘Far too often, racism becomes an excuse for us not to confront sexism.’
If that was the case, it is no longer. Another alleged victim, Joan Tarshis–a former publicist to reggae star Bob Marley–also revealed herself this week. She says she was 19 when Cosby sexually assaulted her twice in 1969, while supposedly helping her get on in the industry.
The first time, Ms Tarshis says she woke up on his couch after he had given her a drink. Cosby had raped her, she says, but her parents idolised the star and, ‘ashamed’, she kept quiet. On the second occasion, she claims she felt very dizzy after he gave her a drink and later awoke naked in his hotel suite bed.
The accusers’ stories about being drugged and attacked are eerily similar. So too are their claims that they were ignored by the entertainment industry and discouraged from contacting the police.
Ironically, the allegations have only gained traction because another popular African-American comic, Hannibal Buress, called Cosby a rapist in his act last month.
Cosby’s publicist has said the star would not dignify ‘decade-old, discredited’ claims with a response. But sceptics challenged his claim that they were ‘discredited’.
They were first made in 2005 by Andrea Constand, a university basketball star whom Cosby was mentoring. She said he had given her ‘herbal’ pills to ease her anxiety. Having drugged her, Cosby then molested her, she claimed.
Authorities chose not to file criminal charges. This week, Bruce Castor, the former prosecutor who investigated Cosby, said he had thought the star was ‘probably guilty’ but there had been insufficient evidence. But Constand went ahead with a civil lawsuit and 13 more women agreed to testify as anonymous witnesses, citing similar accusations. Cosby, who claimed his relationship with Constand had been consensual, settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 2006.
But three of the women who had agreed to testify soon came forward.
Tamara Green, a California lawyer, said she had been assaulted in the Seventies, but only spoke out when she realised she wouldn’t be alone.
She alleged she was a 19-year-old model when Cosby, whom she knew socially, gave her pills which he said would sort out a cold. When he offered to put her to bed, she said, she tried to fight him off but passed out. Cosby said he didn’t know her.
Another former young model, Beth Ferrier, claimed she had a relationship with Cosby in the mid-Eighties which ended after he drugged her coffee and she awoke in a car with her clothes in disarray.
The third woman, Barbara Bowman, had been an aspiring 17-year-old actress when her agent told her Cosby was ‘scouting for young talent’. She alleged the star had been a ‘monster’ who pinned her by her neck as he unbuckled his belt. Her thought, she has said, was: ‘Who’s gonna believe this? He was a powerful man. He was like the President.’
Cosby’s defenders insist the women are trying to cash in on his money and fame. Whoopi Goldberg has questioned why Ms Bowman didn’t go to police or get a hospital to confirm she had been raped.
The U.S. statute of limitations on the alleged assaults ran out long ago, meaning Cosby cannot be tried or sued in any court.
These women insist they have nothing to gain other than what they see as long-delayed justice.