It’s the kind of news that makes you whisper sotto voce to no one in particular, "Say it ain’t so. Please say it ain’t so."
Yes, I’m talking about the lineup of women accusing Bill Cosby of rape. Unless you’ve been in a cave these past few days, you’ve surely heard about the allegations against Cliff Huxtable. Remember him, that affable, sweater-wearing TV dad who quipped and laughed his way through parenthood on The Cosby Show? For me and for many others raising children during the 1980s and ’90s, Dr. Huxtable and Cosby were one in the same. Untouchable, iconic.
After watching and reading the accounts of women who have told their sexual assault stories, I admit to wanting to cling to a fantasy. Why shouldn’t I? Not only was Cosby hilarious and wonderful as Dr. Huxtable, but he sold Jell-O pudding, for chrissakes, and donated gobs of money to worthwhile causes. He penned bestselling books about fatherhood, too, including one I gave my husband. He’s a … a hero, isn’t he?
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But slap me silly and let’s get real here. The tsunami of accusations and the arrogant posturing by his lawyers and handlers paint a different portrait, a very polished — and possibly very fake — public persona. And I think: How could he? How could he?
As of this writing there are 15 women who have come forward with similar and similarly horrible stories. Some accusations date back decades, long before a video of stand-up comic Hannibal Buress calling Cosby a rapist on stage went viral.
A West Palm Beach woman, Therese Serignese, 57, accused Cosby of drugging and having sex with her in 1976, after one of his shows in Las Vegas. She was one of 13 anonymous “Jane Doe’’ witnesses who originally came forward in 2005 in a lawsuit filed by another accuser, Andrea Constand. (The suit was settled a year later.) Former supermodel Janice Dickinson told Entertainment Tonight that the 77-year-old comic had raped her 32 years ago. The two had met to discuss a possible role for her in The Cosby Show. Actress Angela Leslie fired away, too, as have others, including two more over the weekend.
He still got a standing ovation at his show in Melbourne Friday and some are questioning why the women waited so long to come forward. But before Cosby angled for a comeback this year, few listened to the accusers. Recently his lawyer issued a statement stating the stories were “getting more ridiculous.’’ And Cosby has uttered not a peep except to tell Florida Today backstage Friday that he “doesn’t have to answer to innuendos.”
But, as a public figure, doesn’t he? Because fans like me think Please, no, please no each time a woman tells her story publicly.
I’m familiar with that sinking sense of disappointment, this I-can’t-believe-it sensation that makes me wonder if anybody, famous or otherwise, is who he purports to be. I don’t hand out admiration easily or often, so it’s a blow when that gift is tossed and trampled. It happened when football coach Joe Paterno’s storied career ended ignominiously in 2011, after the Penn State sex abuse scandal came to light. I was outraged, yes, but I also felt betrayed. Paterno had concealed facts relating to defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys for years.
The media frenzy over the Cosby allegation shows no signs of dying down. And it shouldn’t. In the wake of the rape allegations, NBC, Netflix and a cable network have canceled projects featuring the legendary comic.
But Cosby has yet to speak up and speak out. He should, he must. His public deserves more than silence. It wants answers: Could he? Did he?