I was wrong.
Bill Cosby didn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.
He cheated on his wife, Camille. He cheated on his kids. He cheated on the people who fell in love with Dr. Huxtable, because they couldn’t see any line of demarcation between him and his alter ego.
He cheated on his hometown, Philadelphia.
He broke my heart.
It’s not as if my heart hasn’t been broken before. I almost married a man who claimed to be something he was very clearly not — an honorable person. I grew up in a milieu where drinking and adultery and all the other “if it feels good do it” vices were common currency in the social market. It’s not like I’m naive, because I know that people lie and, many times, get away with the fact of their immorality.
But it hurts when you lose a cultural polestar, someone who made you believe that the racial divide could be breached by laughter, and who made the simple act of eating pudding into a Norman Rockwell moment.
When it was revealed that Bill Cosby had admitted to procuring drugs for women, women with whom he presumably then had sex, the ground shook beneath me. Until that moment, I was able to hide my eyes in the comfortable folds of the law and legitimately, sincerely believe that these old allegations could not stand up to scrutiny. As I wrote last year: “The thing that angers me the most about this whole situation with Cosby is the mean-spirited, vengeful way the story is being trotted out yet again like some B-movie zombie that refuses to die … for that reason alone, I have no compassion for these women and their cobwebbed, aged stories.”
As you can imagine, I got royally slammed for that one. There were the critics who said I showed such amazing gullibility that they had some land in Florida they’d like to sell. There were the Mattress Girl-style feminists who, believing that any time a woman says she’s raped, she has been, who called me all sorts of things, none of which can be printed here. There were my friends who, as much as they loved Cosby, pleaded with me to “see the light” and acknowledge that the weight and similarity of the allegations against the man were incontrovertible proof of his guilt.
And I continued to say that the allegations were old, in some cases decades old, and the fact that they were similar actually proved to me the opposite: that they were part of a fabrication campaign. In fact, that’s what I said, reminding readers of the “opportunistic psychologists, parents who were naive enough to believe them and a flock of media vultures who fed on the carcass of manipulation and lies.”
Well, I’m ashamed of my own naivete. Perhaps “ashamed” is not the correct word. Disappointed in my inability to look beyond the pristine limits of the law to the messy, straggly edged details of human imperfection. Yes, the women in question were not always reliable sources. Yes, many had benefited materially from their relationships with Cosby over the years. Yes, in most cases they had just shut up about what happened, which meant that they either didn’t consider themselves raped or that they’d preferred to take hush money over pointing a righteous finger.
But they were human beings, all of them, including the Cos, and human beings don’t act like extras in a “Perry Mason” episode. There is very often no concrete proof of a crime, and we are left to deal with the credibility of characters and their past track records in determining whether to believe what “he” said, as opposed to dozens of “shes.”
Well, apparently, “he” did speak and admitted that he’d obtained prescription Quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with. He admitted giving Quaaludes to one person, a 19-year-old. He did not admit to administering the drugs to them. He did not admit to raping them. He did not admit to any facts that could actually support anything other than a disgusting penchant for drugged (albeit consensual) sex.
And, yet, it’s fairly clear to everyone except defense attorneys that Bill Cosby wasn’t courting these women, and that anyone who insists on taking his side is morally bankrupt.
You could accuse me of the same thing, because I refused to believe “the women” when they first raised their voices. You’re quite free to think that, but having seen numerous cases in which women have used a false rape allegation as a potent weapon against a man they wanted to hurt (we can never, ever forget the Duke lacrosse debacle), I still think that unless we have actual proof of force, we cannot convict a man in the court of law or public opinion.
Cosby is now far beyond the ability to be held accountable at a criminal level, and not even these new allegations would assure a conviction. He never admitted that he gave the drugs to the women, so there’s your “reasonable doubt.”
And I still believe that statutes of limitations are the only thing that separate us from chaos and mob rule, where you can get a bunch of disgruntled folk years after the fact and let their allegations and accusations wash over an unprepared and unprotected defendant. If you expect me to apologize for saying those statutes are sacred, you’re out of luck.
But I am sorry for having thought that people deserved the benefit of the doubt, when doubt screamed out that there was no honor here.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.