Can Bill Cosby’s Career Survive Rape Accusations?

Above: Rape allegations continue to mount against Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby probably thought he was over the hump when it came to dealing with allegations of sexual assault that first started to surface in 2004. Even though a woman named Andrea Constand accused Cosby of drugging and fondling her, the authorities chose not to charge him. She filed a civil claim against him, and eleven more women came forward to testify. The Today Show even interviewed another woman, named Tamara Green, who said Cosby had assaulted her in the 1970’s, bring the number of separate accusations up to thirteen. Cosby ended up settling out of court in 2006, hoping to keep the situation under wraps.

It may have been as easy as that to silence his accusers back then, but now Bill Cosby is dealing with a whole different kind of bad publicity. Since a clip of comedian, Hannibal Buress, criticizing Cosby for past accusations went viral in October, the backlash against Cosby has been growing. Social media is the reason the story has spread so quickly, and with conversations surrounding rape culture hitting a fever pitch lately, it is not the kind of story people are going to ignore.

On November 10th, Cosby’s PR team tweeted his followers to turn him into a meme, using a meme generator on his website. His “fans” took that opportunity to publicly shame him for the assault allegations that first came to light 10 years ago. The memes that people were tweeting out included things like “Claire! Have you seen my… Nevermind, found my raping hat”  and “I don’t always eat Jell-O but when I do it’s not consensual. And by Jell-O I mean have sex.” The meme generator has since been removed from his website.

The social media marketing attempt backfired completely, leaving a PR nightmare in its wake. Cosby has always denied all assault allegations, and continues to do so, despite yet another woman coming forward publicly to accuse him. On November 15th, an essay published on Hollywood Elsewhere by Joan Tarshis, a music industry publicist and journalist, claimed that Cosby drugged and raped her in 1969, when she was 19 years old.

Cosby’s attorney said in a recent statement, “Over the past several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Bill Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true.” But these women have nothing to gain by coming forward now, since the statute of limitations has expired on them being able to sue Cosby over their assaults. Cosby claimed his original accuser, Andrea Constand, was trying to exploit him and take advantage of his fame by suing him in 2005. But at this point, no one is looking to make any money. All these women want is for the truth to come out.

In the last week, Cosby has cancelled an appearance on David Letterman, and refused to talk about the controversy during an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon. One of his recent accusers, Barbara Bowman, wrote an essay for the Washington Post, and appeared on CNN Tonight to talk about her experience. She questions, “why it took 30 years for people to believe” her story, and rightly so. 

On November 18th Janice Dickinson became the latest woman to say the comedian raped her. The former supermodel told ET she first met Cosby when her agent set up a meeting with him to discuss a role for her on The Cosby Show. The two later reconnected after Dickinson’s stint in rehab, when Cosby invited her to Lake Tahoe to talk business. According to Dickinson, Cosby gave her a glass of wine and a pill for her menstrual cramps. “The next morning I woke up, and I wasn’t wearing my pajamas, and I remember before I passed out thinking that I had been sexually assaulted by this man,” she told ET. “Before I woke up in the morning, the last thing I remember was Bill Cosby in a patchwork robe, dropping his robe and getting on top of me. And I remember a lot of pain. The next morning I remember waking up with my pajamas off and there was semen in between my legs.” Dickinson added that she wrote about the assault in her 2002 autobiography, No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World’s First Supermodel, but that Cosby and his lawyers pressured her and Harper Collins to remove the details.

The news prompted online streaming service Netflix to announce that it had scrapped its previously scheduled Bill Cosby special (originally slated to come out on Netflix on November 28th).

Cosby’s biography, written by Mark Whitaker, was released in September of this year. Of course, details on the assault controversy are mysteriously omitted from the book, and reviews on Amazon point out that the biography paints an incomplete picture. Clearly people aren’t willing to look the other way any longer. 

So, can Cosby’s career survive mounting rape allegations? At 77, Cosby has enjoyed a (mostly) positive reputation throughout his career, but now, with the spotlight clearly on his alleged status as a “serial rapist” , there isn’t much room for positive publicity. He may have been able to brush these things under the rug ten years ago, but the world is a different place today. Social media backlash has made it clear that not even an iconic comedian with lots of money is immune to being held accountable for his actions.

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