While a few of the women have told a portion of their stories in their own words on Dr. Phil, most of the time we read their words in the context of a news story about Bill Cosby. So whose story is it? Is it a story about Bill Cosby and his fall from grace, or is it the story of the woman who is telling the story, or is it the story of the reporter and editor who edit and structure each woman’s words into a compelling narrative that will sell a publication, or get people to click on a link?
I learned the hard way recently that the headline often determines the story. If it reads, Abuse Charges Against Bill Cosby, notice that Cosby is front and center and the charges come from an anonymous source. It is a story about what is happening to Cosby not the story of the woman charging him of abuse. If it reads, Bill Cosby Facing Accusations, again it is a story about Cosby and the ramifications, for him, of those accusations. If it reads, Another Cosby Victim, both Cosby and the woman are in the headline, but the woman is lumped together with others and it feels that she has jumped on a bandwagon rather than having a story to tell. Only one woman, Janice Dickinson, was famous enough in her own right to merit a headline. Yes, Cosby is the famous one, but does a woman have to go missing to make headlines and put her name before the public?
Not that these women necessarily want their names and faces plastered across media outlets across the country labeling them as victims of actions they would sooner forget about. When women come forward with the kind of accusations that have been made against Cosby they do so knowing that they will be discounted, disbelieved, dismissed. They know that amongst those who actually have an experience to recount, there may well be one who is doing it for the publicity. And that one person may discredit them all. They know that, like the woman who accused a fraternity at UVA of gang rape, they may not have their facts exactly right. That it is purely a ‘he said, she said’ situation, and they are up against a well-oiled public relations machine and a feeling of affection for the Cosby who was once a beloved figure. Even on Dr. Phil, whose show is predicated on the gotcha model of journalism, their stories were interrupted to suit the Dr.’s narrative, not their own.
The current brouhaha started with a stand-up comedian’s joke that went viral. Hannibal Buress, in a set at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theatre, told the audience to google ‘Bill Cosby rape’ and apparently they did and whole new set of accusers came forth. Then social media picked it up, and then mainstream media, and then the story became an industry of its own. And now we all know the name Hannibal Buress while we don’t remember the names of the women.
The list of accusers grows, now at standing at 21, and if they are to be believed, then there are probably many others who will not come forward, who do not want to be engaged in the inevitable media circus that will ensue. The story about Cosby and the downfall of his career is the story. The women who were possibly drugged and assaulted by him became collateral damage in the rush to be the first to publish some new factoid for the public to devour.
Victor Fiorillo, a Philadelphia writer who has covered the Cosby story since 2005, wants to adapt the story into a stage play, to present the material “in a new way for the public to consume.” He is the right person to tell the story, he says, because he is so well-versed in it. But what is the story he will tell? What does he really know about the women in the story, and does anyone care about them?
The Donald and Cosby
The most bizarre aspect of the story occurred on this week’s opening of Celebrity Apprentice when Keisha Knight Pulliam, who played Cosby’s daughter, Rudy Huxtable, on The Cosby Show, was fired by Donald Trump for not calling Cosby to raise money for her team. Large creepy factor here, and although the show was shot months before the current accusations surfaced, letting it stand without editing or comment makes an assumption that either it is useful for ratings or that our memories are so short that we no longer care what Cosby did. Either is an insult to the audience.
The only reason we care about this at all is because Cosby is famous, because he had a squeaky clean family-man persona that has been tarnished. All the salient details that are printed about what he did, where he touched her, how she felt, appeal to public prurience but don’t really serve to enlighten us about what really happened. About why a man who seemingly had it all had to have so many bright young women and damage them for life.