The Critical Mass

Did someone put something in Bill Cosby’s drink?

bill-cosby-why-is-there-air-front-704708889I think it was after Game 2 of the World Series last week when the television – which is rarely on in the Spevak household these days – drifted over to The Colbert Report. I’d read that Stephen Colbert is closing down the faux-news cable show, which has done commendable work in making a mockery of Republicans (Agreed, that is the definition of shooting smoked turkeys in a barrel).

This particular show was a repeat of a broadcast from last month. The guest was Bill Cosby. The 77-year-old comedian sounded like a sci-fi movie astronaut awakening from an induced hibernation following a long voyage to another planet. He spoke in a rambling series of non sequiturs, less funny than weird. There was much banter between Cosby and Colbert about “ball sandwiches.” After the interview, in which Colbert elicited nothing of use from Cosby, Margaret turned to me and asked, “Was he drunk?”

I interviewed Cosby a couple of years ago. I know how he can dominate a conversation with charm.  As I recall, we talked for nearly an hour. Actually, he talked for nearly an hour. I probably asked about six questions. He filled in the rest of the time. But one thing I do remember is, he was quite lucid, sometimes serious, sometimes funny. A legitimate spokesman on cultural issues. And certainly a controversial one, with his frequent exhortations to black people to “quit complaining,” and his insistence that black men should take more responsibility in raising children.

A couple of days ago I stumbled across a column which put Cosby in a different light. Written by Maureen Shaw, it was headlined, “13 Women Have Accused Bill Cosby of Rape — So Why Has America Forgiven Him?”

Shaw appears to write frequently on women’s issues, although most people would likely agree that domestic violence and rape are not solely the concern of women. In reading Shaw’s account, and backed by a number of other news stories as I searched the Internet, it actually appears to be 14, perhaps 16, women who alleged that they were victims of assault by Cosby. Now other media outlets are reviving the story, apparently after a  comedian named Hannibal Buress brought it up last week during a standup routine. Today, Queen Latifah cancelled his appearance on her TV talk show.

Cosby has never been charged with rape. But he did settle a 2006 civil suit out of court, after the plaintiff’s lawyers had assembled 13 witnesses who bolstered the complaint with their own stories about Cosby. The women had nothing to benefit from financially, the statute of limitations having passed on their own allegations. But they were prepared to tell similar stories in the court room. Cosby had at first charmed them, then slipped a drug into their drinks, then assaulted them. Some of them said they received financial support from Cosby for years afterward. The implication is that this was hush money.

I’m not blowing the whistle on Cosby. That’s already been done. All I’m asking now is, is this the right guy to be pointing the finger of personal responsibility at others?

If these allegations are true, how did he get away with it? Well, he’s Bill Cosby. My brother and I memorized his comedy records when we were kids. Why is There Air? and its ruminations on “idiot mittens,” those mittens linked by a string, where you’d pull the kid’s hand and he’d smack himself in the side of the head with the other. Cosby’s one of TV’s favorite dads, the Cliff Huxtable sweater is a fashion concept. He plays the loveable old curmudgeon in interviews, controls them, makes them go where he wants them to go: The importance of education, rather than the seriousness of a rape charge. He creates a conversational landscape where questions about his own irresponsibilities are unwelcome.

When I talked to Cosby, I’d long ago forgotten any news stories I’d read about those 2006 allegations. Apparently, Colbert had as well. We both let the old man have his way with us. And we didn’t even get a cocktail out of the experience.