Rolling Out

How Bill Cosby’s image was destroyed in 3 years

How Bill Cosby's image was destroyed in 3 years
Photo source: Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office

In 2014, well-known comedian Hannibal Buress delivered the stand-up routine that ultimately led to the criminal case against Bill Cosby. In the routine, Buress stated  “Bill Cosby has the f—— smuggest old Black man public persona that I hate … ‘Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’  Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, that brings you down a couple notches … ‘I don’t curse on stage.’ But yeah, you’re a rapist.”

Soon after the routine received widespread social media attention decades-old allegations of sexual misconduct re-emerged against Cosby from 50 to 60 women. For Cosby, these allegations came at a time when he was expected to make a return to TV in a new sitcom. Then in November 2014, Cosby and wife Camille sat down with the National Public Radio program “Weekend Edition with Scott Simon.”

The interview was supposed to center on the couple’s art collection being on display at the Smithsonian Museum. But the interview took a left turn when Simon asked questions about the re-emergence of the sexual assault allegations against Cosby and was met with silence by the comedian and his wife. A partial transcript of the exchange reads:

Scott Simon: This question gives me no pleasure Mr. Cosby, but there have been serious allegations raised about you in recent days …

Bill Cosby: *silence*

SS: You’re shaking your head no. I’m in the news business. I have to ask the question. Do you have any response to those charges?

BC: *silence*

SS: Shaking your head no. There are people who love you who might like to hear from you about this. I want to give you the chance…

BC: *silence*

SS: All right. Camille and Bill Cosby. They have lent 62 pieces from their collection of African and African American art to create an exhibit called Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue. It’s now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art through early 2016. Thank you, both.

Cosby’s silence was deafening and preceded a public relations nightmare in 2015 that saw his legacy being destroyed. Simple attempts at humor backfired on social media when Cosby rolled out a meme generator on his website. Users took the opportunity to caption classic Cosby still shots from his career into satirical commentaries on the rape allegations. The comedian’s social media team took the feature out of the website within days. Then multiple women began to file civil lawsuits against Cosby related to sexual abuse allegations. Cosby’s public relations and legal teams responded by disparaging the women and countersuing in some cases.

During this time when Cosby had a stand-up tour, he was met with protesters and cancellations as the sexual assault allegations flourished. Past co-stars of “The Cosby Show” took the financial hit when the program was dropped from syndication runs on TV networks. Even the animated children’s TV series “Little Bill and Fat Albert” were no longer seen on the air.

As Cosby’s legal drama unfolded, depositions from 2005, that were formerly sealed, were revealed to the public that presented a starkly different image of the comedian. In his own words, Cosby admitted to multiple marital affairs that included giving the now-banned prescription drug Quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with. In all cases, he said the sex was consensual and the taking of Quaaludes a normal part of the culture during the late ’60s and ’70s. The carefully groomed image of Cosby as “America’s Dad” was destroyed. He saw military and university honors being stripped away from him at a record pace. The U.S. Navy stripped him of the title honorary Chief Petty Officer in 2014 soon to be followed by a host of highly acclaimed schools such as Brown University, Tuft University, Fordham University and others. He has either been removed or forced to resign from the board of trustees of colleges he was affiliated with, including his alma mater, Temple University. Prominent HBCU Spelman College, an all women’s college, was the first to cut ties to the Cosby name.

Now, the Bill Cosby criminal trial is over and the comedian emerged victorious after a mistrial was declared because of a deadlocked jury. However, Cosby was not on trial for his past affairs, Quaaludes or morals. This trial was specifically about an alleged sexual assault against Andrea Constand. Cosby is a free man at the moment as the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office plans to retry him on the allegations.

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