The Cosby accusations have grown bigger than facts

    The Bill Cosby I know is a generous man who advised me as I sought to write a book of family humor, introduced me to an editor at a national magazine, and did similar things for many others.

    But that’s not the only reason I’ve had mixed emotions as I’ve watched the media train wreck that has accompanied rape accusations against the entertainer.

    I’ve been baffled because Cosby stands on the brink of ruin not for a criminal conviction, but over allegations that have never been proven, charges that have never been filed and guilt that has never been established. Moreover, every allegation against him is decades old.

    The timeline

    Forty-five years. That’s how long one woman waited to accuse Cosby of sexual assault.

    Now that accuser, Joan Tarshis, has been joined by model Janice Dickinson, who says that the comedian sexually assaulted her in 1982.

    Several more women have emerged in recent days, and their accusations also go back decades.

    In the wake of all these allegations, there has been much backpedaling and second-guessing.

    Bruce Castor, the former Montgomery County District Attorney who handled the first accusation, leveled by Andrea Constand in 2004, now claims that he wanted to charge Cosby.

    Castor didn’t do so, however, and a civil suit filed against Cosby by Constand was subsequently settled for an undisclosed sum in 2006.

    Cosby, for his part, has refused to address the allegations head on, asking an AP interviewer to remove his answers on the subject from a video, and responding to a question on NPR with silence.

    After a sold-out standup performance in Melbourne, Florida, this week, Cosby told the Florida Today newspaper that, “I know people are tired of me not saying anything, but a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendos. People should fact check. People shouldn’t have to go through that and shouldn’t answer to innuendos.”

    The immediate impact

    Perhaps, but in our current media environment, facts don’t seem to matter.

    While Cosby’s producers told ABC News that Cosby has at least 28 more shows scheduled through May 2015, performances in Las Vegas, Tucson (Ariz.), Champaign (Ill.), Reno (Nev.), Florence (S.C.), and at the Choctaw Casino Resort in Oklahoma were canceled.

    Not only that, nearly every television project that was in development for Cosby has been canceled — from his NBC sitcom, to his Netflix special, to reruns of “The Cosby Show” on TV Land.

    Notwithstanding the cheers he received in a standup routine in tiny Melbourne, Fla., this weekend, it appears as if his life as an entertainer, so promising just weeks ago, is rapidly coming to an end. And that’s a shame.

    On evolving media and justice

    In this day and age, when a viral video can morph into a Twitter disaster, and when unsubstantiated allegations can ruin a lifetime of work, things have changed for the worse, in my view.

    Not because I believe that those who do wrong should walk free, but because I believe that punishment should be meted out only after a crime is proven.

    And make no mistake: In the case of Bill Cosby, nothing has been proven. Except perhaps this: We no longer live in a country where guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

    We now live in a place where a joke can take on a life of its own, where a social media trend can be reported as news and where facts and accusations meld together in an endless tapestry of ambiguity.

    Our society has, in many ways, morphed into a place where truth is established by whomever speaks the loudest, snags the biggest interview or writes their tell-all first.

    I believe that’s wrong, and while I know there will be those who will defend the gaggle of accusers whose decades-old accusations are now flooding the news cycle, let me say this:

    Every day, there are women who report being victimized by men.

    These women — women who have been hurt, assaulted, damaged and traumatized — are often looking for nothing more than justice from the system and protection from their tormenters.

    And every day, such women take the brave step of reporting what happened to them; not for personal gain, or for media notoriety, but because it is right.

    They don’t wait decades.

    They don’t give television interviews.

    They don’t seek fame.

    They give their testimony away from lights and cameras, and they do so because they want the abuse to stop.

    I don’t know if the accusations against Bill Cosby are true, but I know that I wonder about the world in which we live. In a time when a man can lose everything over accusations nearly half a century old, are any of us safe from our accusers?

    Perhaps more importantly, are any of us sure of the truth?

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