Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Public, Hating

I've spent more time than was good for me reading about the controversy now swirling around Bill Cosby, almost all at Salon.  The stories there reached their nadir with the revelation that in 1969 one of his albums included a story about looking for "Spanish Fly" in Spain, with Robert Culp.  The outrage was that he joked about putting drugs in women's drinks; the story was about how naive he and Culp were, looking for a mythical aphrodisiac.  But somehow it proved Cosby was a serial rapist.

My problem with the Salon stories was not that I believe Bill Cosby is incapable of the acts alleged against him; it is that the allegations go back to events allegedly occurring as much as 45 years ago, and there is no proof of them except the stories of a few women (the number, like almost everything else in this tempest in a teapot, is in dispute.).  It could be the stories are all similar because they reflect the pattern of a rapist; it could be the stories are all so similar because each story-teller is familiar with the other stories.

How can we tell?

This is the best timeline on the controversy I know of.  Most of the details are of the allegations by Andrea Constand, the only woman to have ever sued Cosby for alleged assault.  This suit is the source of the "14 women" number, women who have allegedly made similar charges.  13 are listed in court papers as Jane Doe witnesses.  One woman, Beth Ferrier, claims to be Jane Doe 5, and tells her story in a news interview.  Barbara Bowman is another witness; she also tells her story to the press.  I mention this because these are named witnesses, not anonymous ones.  Much has been made of the fact so many women tell the same story, but the stories of Green and Bowman are two attached to names, and with details behind them.  I haven't found anything about the other witnesses, but the commonly accepted "fact" is that they all tell the same story.  As far as I can tell, those women never told their stories at all.

The Constand case was filed in 2005, settled in 2006.  None of the Jane Doe witnesses testified; at least not in court.  I can't tell whether Green and Bowman were ever deposed, which would qualify as testimony.  All information about their stories comes from news accounts, not from deposition transcripts.

That ends it until 2014.  Joan Tarshis accuses Cosby of rape in November, a rape she says occurred in 1969.  Janice Dickinson accuses him of rape a few days later.  She says her rape occurred in 1982.

So four women have made accusations; one sued.  11 more allegedly made accusations, but we don't know the content of their stories, or what their names are.  It seems pretty ugly; it also seems pretty amorphous.  And today, like Bill O'Reilly screeching about "Merry Christmas!" v. "Happy Holidays," the pack of hounds got its prize:  Bill Cosby won't develop a new sitcom for NBC.

The Republic is saved.  Justice is done.  We can all sleep better tonight.  A major entertainment corporation, like major retailers last December, has proven to have knees of jelly.  They don't want to displease people with their choice of star for a sitcom, or displease Fox News viewers with the greeting they offer customers after Thanksgiving.

And then, of course, there is the controversy over the shirt.

I read a story once, long ago, by Steve Allen.  It was called "The Public Hating."  I think I still have half the paperback book it was reprinted in, the half with the story in it.  I found it tonight on-line, here.  It's an interesting story, and while Allen never imagined modern communications or the internet, he did imagine a world much like the one we seem determined to make on-line.

At least in some corner of it.


  1. The piling on on Cosby is pretty bad, considering the problems with the accusations. I'm just old enough so I remember the very end of the black list period and this is kind of thing is so much like that. The several incidents of that kind I've seen online has made me change my mind about rape-shield laws. I think an accused person has the right to face their accusers and if their name is going to be public then their accusers names should be too.

    That it was Steve Allen who wrote that story at that particular time is rather massively ironic for a number of reasons. He was heavily into CSICOP back then which was a vehicle for that kind of stuff. His clear slamming of J. B. Rhine (that guy at Duke University) is ironic in that Rhine was as measure and fair as his opponents were not. Rhine was a real life victim of their calling out the haters on him and his wife as well as their colleagues. The lies told about his research and him were pretty bad as can be seen from looking at the actual record instead of the lies that are firmly entrenched online in "skeptical" websites by the thousands.

    And Allen also, clearly, got the religious orientation of the world class haters wrong in that it's my experience, direct, that the more accomplished haters are anti-religious. When the hate was called out on me it was Lindsay Beyerstein, daugher of Barry Beyerstine, a second generation "skeptic" who didn't like me saying that Sugar Ray Leonard should name the man he was accusing of ruining his life by coming on to him so that other people wouldn't be suspected. That incident made Salon magazine, copying what Beyerstine misrepresented. It's the reason I went back to independent blogging.

  2. I find, more and more, it comes back to responsibility.

    We don't want to be responsible. We do want "them" to be responsible.

    So accusations against a public figure, whether a celebrity or someone thrust into prominence due to an event, are easy on us. They were irresponsible in some matter, and we hold them accountable.

    Us? Hold us accountable? Perish the thought! There is no burden on us! It's up to the accused to prove their innocence! Hey, this isn't a court of law! We can do what we like! (I've actually seen this very argument put forward in great seriousness.)

    And on the internet we can be irresponsible AND have clout! It's a win-win!

    We love being irresponsible and yet holding others to account.

  3. It's called "the new journalism" only it's about as new as Joseph Pulitzer and W. R. Hurst. Salon is a sewer, and it's the high end of it.

  4. I've been very sad to see these charges made against Bill Cosby. I have no way of knowing or even guessing whether they are true or not. It's sad if he's been accused falsely, sadder if the accusations are true.

    I never saw an episode of the Cosby Show; what I have seen of it looked pretty saccharine. But as a kid I absolutely loved his comedy albums--"Right!" "Why is there air?" "Wonderfulness." I still love them.

    Most people with any knowledge of Church history know the outcome of the Donatist controversy: the moral failings of the priest do not invalidate the efficacy of his sacramental acts.

    In the same way, I think it acceptable to separate the moral shortcomings of the artist from the appreciation of his art. Roman Polanski is an all-but-admitted rapist; that doesn't require my renunciation of "Chinatown." If some clever historian discovers that Shakespear was a pederast I'm not going to consign his plays to the flames.

    If only for the sake of the remembrance of an innocent childhood I will continue to hope that Mr. Cosby is innocent of the charges now overwhelming him. But even if he is guilty, and merits our execration, I can invoke the Donatist principle, and remain grateful to him for Fat Albert and Cryin' Charlie, and ask for him the same mercy that we're all going to need.

  5. i was told the other day that "innocent until proven guilty" was a concept that only applied to the courts, not public opinion. which is fine, i suppose, except that i don't see how the same people can be outraged when the system fails to apply that principle to some poor person of color or limited mental capacity- not only is our legal system only as good as the people who work in it, it's only as good as the people it's set up to protect

  6. jim--

    We too easily forget the criminal justice (or civil justice) system is set up to not only protect victims, but to protect those falsely accused of crimes or, in Cosby's case, torts.

    We only want it to be convenient for "us," but if it works for "us," it must work for people we deem unworthy of its protections.