Why Did the AP Suppress the Sexual Assault Portion of Its Bill Cosby Interview?
On Nov. 10, the Associated Press released a video featuring Bill Cosby and his wife Camille, chatting about the collection of African-American art the couple had recently loaned to the Smithsonian. More than a week later, the AP published additional footage from the Cosby sit-down that hadn’t make the original cut.
In the clip, a reporter mentions numerous allegations of sexual assault that have been made against Cosby over the past decade. “I didn’t want to—I have to ask about your name coming up in the news recently,” the reporter told Cosby. “No, no, we don’t answer that,” Cosby replied. The reporter tried twice more to get a comment out of Cosby, and Cosby denied him each time. The clip released by the AP also includes an exchange recorded after the formal interview concluded, but before Cosby had removed his mic. “Now, can I get something from you? That none of that will be shown?” Cosby asked the reporter, adding that he thought the AP had the “integrity” not to ask. “If you want to consider yourself to be serious,” Cosby told him, “I would appreciate it, if [the footage] was scuttled.”
The clip is troubling, because Cosby appears studied in the art of soft intimidation. But I’m also troubled by the ease with which the Associated Press buckles to his demands. Until last night, the AP had opted to suppress the sexual assault portion of the interview, accommodating Cosby at the expense of reporting the news. Why would it do that?
Why Does Alleged Sexual Predator R. Kelly Still Have a Career?
As of Thursday afternoon, 16 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, the latest a nurse named Therese Serignese who says the comedian drugged and raped her in the mid-1970s. Earlier this week, model Janice Dickinson told a similar story, alleging that Cosby drugged her during a 1982 encounter, and that she woke up in a daze the next morning with her clothes off and “semen in between my legs.” As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in the Atlantic on Wednesday, the sheer number of allegations against Cosby makes it hard to believe that he’s anything but a serial predator. “[B]elieving Bill Cosby does not require you to take one person's word over another,” Coates writes, “it requires you take one person's word over 15 others.” (The number of accusers has gone up since Wednesday.)
Claims of sexual abuse against Cosby aren’t new, as Gawker’s Tom Scocca noted earlier this year—Philadelphia magazine, People, the Today show, and other media outlets reported on accusations from multiple women back in the mid-2000s. These women gave bracing, on-the-record accounts of Cosby drugging and raping them. So why are we only paying attention now?
Barbara Bowman, one of Cosby’s alleged victims, first told her story to Philadelphia magazine’s Robert Huber in 2006. In a piece for the Washington Post last week, Bowman says people finally listened to her because “a man, Hannibal Buress” (italics hers) gave voice to what she’d been saying for a decade. Scocca argued back in February that stories like Bowman's were ignored because they contradicted Cosby’s happy, smiley TV image—that “nobody wanted to live in a world where Bill Cosby was a sexual predator. It was too much to handle.” And in a Slate piece, also this February, Newsweek’s Katie J.M. Baker told Amanda Hess that the women making claims against Cosby were blithely cast aside “because they were imperfect victims,” that nobody had much sympathy for “ambitious aspiring actresses and models who were hanging out with an older man who said he'd make them famous.”
I don’t think any of these explanations is quite right. It’s certainly true that, in 2006, “nobody wanted to live in a world where Bill Cosby was a sexual predator.” But I don’t get the sense that anyone is particularly excited to ponder Cliff Huxtable’s alleged sex crimes in 2014, and yet here we are. To understand what’s changed, let’s consider the case of R. Kelly, a man who, despite a Cosby-esque litany of sexual assault allegations against him, has yet to face a Cosby-esque backlash.
I covered Kelly’s child pornography trial back in 2008, a task that required sitting in a Chicago courtroom and watching a video in which a man who looks exactly like Kelly urinates on and has sex with a teenage girl. Though Dave Chappelle turned Kelly’s micturition into a joke, there’s nothing funny about this tape, which shows a girl of around 14 saying “Yes, daddy” when she’s asked to initiate sex. Jim DeRogatis, who doggedly chronicled the allegations against Kelly in the Chicago Sun-Times when no else seemed to care, said in a recent interview with the Village Voice’s Jessica Hopper that she has “the disembodied look of the rape victim.”
Despite what was on that video, the “Sex Planet” singer was acquitted of all charges in his 2008 trial, in large part because the alleged victim refused to testify. But this wasn’t an isolated accusation. In a separate piece for the Voice, DeRogatis cites “dozens of civil lawsuits and out-of-court settlements with underage girls who claim they had sexual relationships with him that left them physically and emotionally damaged,” adding, “I will never forget sitting with a girl who showed me the scars where she slit her wrists when her relationship with Kelly ended.”
DeRogatis has been on the Kelly story since 2000, when he wrote an article with Abdon M. Pallasch that began, “Chicago singer and songwriter R. Kelly used his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet girls as young as 15 and have sex with them, according to court records and interviews.” That story describes a lawsuit by a woman who said she met the R&B star at age 14, started having sex with him at 15, and that he “encouraged her to participate in group sex with him and other underage girls.” Another woman named in that same lawsuit, who said she had sex with Kelly when she was 16, told DeRogatis that she believed the singer had a “sickness” for underage girls.
That lawsuit that DeRogatis wrote about in 2000 was settled, and the alleged victim’s mother told DeRogatis that “the terms of the settlement forbid her from talking to the press.” That, in part, explains why the Kelly story has never exploded into a Cosby-style media moment. Had one of the women in that lawsuit (or any of the other women who filed a lawsuit against Kelly) made the incredibly difficult choice to come forward and give a first-person account, perhaps more would have felt emboldened to do the same. That’s what happened with Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi, and also with Cosby.
The accusations against Kelly did get a bit more attention when the Village Voice’s Hopper collected and recapitulated DeRogatis’ reporting in December. At least, they got more notice than when Hitsville’s Bill Wyman did the same thing in 2008. As these last couple of weeks have demonstrated, the Internet’s power to amplify messages (for good and for ill) is exponentially greater than it was just a few years ago. That’s in part due to the rise of Twitter, but also because the media ecosystem is so much different now, with sites like BuzzFeed, Gawker, and, yes, Slate, pouncing on items more quickly and spreading them far and wide. (This is why the Buress video caught fire online, not because a man was saying that Cosby was a rapist.) As a society, we’ve also moved slowly but perceptibly in the direction of believing alleged victims of sexual assault—it turns out that we do, at least in some cases, give credence to the claims of ambitious aspiring actresses. This shift over the last 10 years may be small, but it’s real, and it’s contributed to how this wave of Cosby allegations has been received in the press and in the broader culture.
Given these factors, all of the R. Kelly reporting that’s already out there—helpfully aggregated by the Village Voice—is a tinderbox that’s waiting to be lit. It just hasn’t happened yet. If someone like Lady Gaga says she won’t work with Kelly anymore and explains why (preferably in a sharable video), then that could be the Hannibal Buress–esque spark. If some of Kelly’s alleged victims decide to tell their stories, that could do it, too.
I’m not saying they should come forward—that decision, of course, is theirs and theirs alone. This is simply an explanation of why Cosby has become a pariah while Kelly continues his career unperturbed (with the small exception of a recently canceled concert appearance). In 2010, he performed at the World Cup. In 2011, he was named Billboard’s top R&B artist of the last quarter-century. He continues to play sold-out shows and release new tracks and major-label albums. He continues to get a pass, one that Cosby once received and has now been revoked.
House Republicans Give 20 Out of 21 Committee Chairs to Men
The number of women in Congress may finally have cracked 100 this year, but with Republicans in charge, don't expect to see those gains reflected in leadership. As reported by both Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post and Rachel Maddow this week, Republicans announced the chairs for next year's House committees. Twenty out of 21 of the spots are going to men. The only woman is Rep. Candice Miller, who will be heading the Committee on House Administration.
Compare this to the list of chairs for the Democratic-controlled Senate in 2013, where women chaired six out of 20 committees, including really big ones like the Senate Budget Committee. The Democrats also fail as spectacularly as the Republicans on the racial diversity front, but the fact remains that they are the more female-friendly party not just in electoral representation, but also when it comes to putting women in leadership positions in Congress.
You Can Now Put Zits, Cellulite, and Bruises on Your "Normal Barbie"
Soon, kids will be able to trick out a “Normal Barbie” with stretch marks, acne, and bruises. Designer Nickolay Lamm has created an 11-inch doll of typical female proportions: no ginormous boobs stuck on a teeny frame atop permanently arched feet. For $6, you can also order a page of 38 reusable stickers, made of clear vinyl, which include—in addition to the stretch marks, contusions, and zits—cellulite, freckles, glasses, bandages, moles, stitches, scrapes, scars, and mosquito bites. The idea, Lamm explains on his website, is to give girls toys that reflect the lovable imperfections of their own bodies.
“Normal Barbie,” also known as Lammily, is “the first fashion doll made according to typical human body proportions to promote realistic beauty standards,” says the site. Since launching a crowd-funding crusade on Kickstarter back in March, Lamm has received more than 19,000 pre-orders from 13,621 backers, and a blizzard of positive press. He used measurements deemed average for a 19-year-old woman by the Centers for Disease Control to sculpt his prototype, whose epigones now cost $25 (not bad!) and will be shipped out to purchasers starting on Nov. 28. (The stickers won’t be available until January.)
I like the black humor and whimsical Schadenfreude of kids gleefully pasting acne, surgical scars, and cellulite beads all over their “Barbies.” Doll play often has a whiff of latent sadism—think of the terrible haircuts and decapitations children inflict on their figurines—and these toys lay it bare. The dolls also reflect the idea that cultural products should be relatable—that kids should be able to customize their playthings and experiences, because their individuality is special and worth nurturing. In this case, such solicitous tailoring seems like a positive step. We want girls to see themselves mirrored in their role models and fantasy characters. We want them to know that their particular scrapes and bumps and puberty stretch marks are normal—beautiful, even. (And indeed, if it’s individuality that makes someone precious, then flawless Barbie has nothing on scabbed-up Lammily.)
You could argue that the Lammily doll is political correctness and gushy self-acceptance run amok. But I think she represents something better than that, if also more complicated. Beauty remains a real perk for women, a sort of cloud of privilege you might not realize you have. When you’ve got it, you can always fall back on it, usually unconsciously, no matter how terrible everything else is. When you don’t have it, you have to focus on stuff that actually matters. (Which is not to say that gorgeous women do not prioritize meaningful issues, only that they aren’t forced to.) Anyway, this recalibration is hard but worth it. And the dream is that one day, the pretty people and the not-pretty people will be judged by the same standard. But until then, maybe we need average-looking dolls. To get people to pay attention to the right things. To not grow distracted by the glittering object with the perfect unbroken skin and the minuscule arms.
I wish I could appreciate the old Barbie’s appearance the way I appreciate someone’s athleticism or wit. But it’s hard to value looks in a pure, uncomplicated fashion when they’ve assumed such outsized importance in people’s minds. Maybe—until we’ve done a better job dethroning beauty as the be-all-end-all—these new dolls can direct girls’ fantasies in other, healthier directions.
Don Lemon Asks Cosby Rape Accuser Why She Didn’t Just Gnaw Her Way Out of Danger
Don Lemon, whose reputation for obtuseness generated the only light moment to come out of the Ferguson protests, has struck again. Tuesday night, in an interview with Joan Tarshis, the fifth named woman to accuse Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her, Lemon decided to Monday morning quarterback her self-defense when Cosby allegedly forced himself on her. He found her performance inadequate. Media Matters transcribed the exchange:
Publicly Shaming Bill Cosby Is the Best We Can Do
What should happen to Bill Cosby now that more than a dozen women have accused him of sexual assault? In a better world—or a world where justice was more satisfying—these women’s stories would be investigated by the police and prosecuted in court. In that world, the allegations, if true, would lead to convictions, and Cosby would be headed to prison on sexual assault charges. “Actually, he’s a serial rapist,” Joan Tarshis, one of the latest victims to tell her story, said on CNN.
Tarshis’ story begins like most of the others: “He made me a drink and very shortly afterward I passed out. I woke up very groggily with him removing my underwear.” It was 1969, and she was an aspiring comedian. Cosby told her he wanted to work on a sketch with her and invited her to his bungalow. Then came the drink, the groggy moment, and, according to Tarshis, forced oral sex.
Tarshis, like the others, is defensive about not having spoken out for so many years. She worried no one would believe her, because he’s the great Bill Cosby, “the all-American dad.” But it’s hard not to believe her now, because her story sounds so similar to all the others. Here is Barbara Bowman, another alleged victim telling almost the exact same story. She was a 19-year-old aspiring actress when she met Cosby. He “talked incessantly about trust issues,” she said, and made her believe she had to open up to him. Then in an Atlantic City hotel room came the drugs, the wooziness, the “screaming, yelling, scratching.”
So why isn’t Cosby in handcuffs? Andrea Constand was a young Temple University employee when she went to Cosby for career advice in 2004. She tells the same story of pills and grogginess. Unlike the others, though, she took her case to Bruce Castor, then a Pennsylvania district attorney who declined to press charges and today explained why. “I didn’t say that he didn’t commit the crime. What I said was there was insufficient admissible and reliable evidence upon which to base a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s ‘prosecutors speak’ for ‘I think he did it but there's just not enough here to prosecute.’ ” Castor said he had every incentive to go forward—it would have been a career-making, front-page news story for him, after all. But after a year, “you lose the ability to test for blood or intoxicating agents.” He says he thought Cosby probably did “something inappropriate,” but “thinking that and being able to prove it are two different things.”
These decades-old cases are virtually impossible to prosecute. Not only does the physical evidence no longer exist, but most states have statutes of limitation on sexual assault cases. We can debate about whether there should be statutes of limitation on sexual assault, given that women often feel too ashamed to come forward right away. But for the moment, that’s the law. So where does that leave us?
In the house of public shame. Yes, the court of public opinion is thoroughly sloppy, as Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate after Dylan Farrow’s New York Times essay exploded the Internet. “There are no rules of evidence, no burdens of proof, no cross-examinations, and no standards of admissibility.” But in this case, unlike either the Woody Allen case or the R. Kelly case, there are now five women who have spoken to major media outlets, under their real names, telling a very similar story. Constand filed a civil suit against Cosby, which was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2006. In that case, her lawyer had lined up 13 supporting witnesses, all apparently with their own pills-and-grogginess stories. At the time, Constand’s case did not make a dent in Cosby’s reputation. But now that we know what we know, or perhaps now that we know it at a time of heightened awareness about sexual assault, a quiet settlement and a financial hit seem insufficient punishment given the scale of the crime. So Netflix, don't air that Cosby post-Thanksgiving special, even though you have already paid for and shot it; NBC, cancel that Cosby sitcom. And if that doesn’t happen, then shame on anyone who watches them.
It’s Not Your Kids Holding Your Career Back. It’s Your Husband.
Almost a decade ago, the writer Linda Hirshman exhorted ambitious women to marry men with less money or social capital than they had. In articles and her book, Get to Work, she told women that they should avoid ever taking on more than half of the housework or child care. How to do it? Either marry a man who is extremely committed to equality, or do what she says is the easier route, and “marry down.” Hirshman explained in the American Prospect that such a choice is not “brutally strategic,” it’s just smart. “If you are devoted to your career goals and would like a man who will support that, you're just doing what men throughout the ages have done: placing a safe bet.”
This was a highly controversial piece of advice at the time, but Hirshman might have been right. A new study of Harvard Business School graduates from HBS’s Robin Ely and Colleen Ammerman and Hunter College sociologist Pamela Stone shows that high achieving women are not meeting the career goals they set for themselves in their 20s. It’s not because they’re “opting out” of the workforce when they have kids, but because they’re allowing their partners’ careers to take precedence over their own.
Strippers Follow Cheerleaders in Suing Their Exploitative Employers—and Winning
Turns out cheerleading isn't the only job where an employer treats you like you should be paying him for the privilege of being ogled by men you'd usually ignore in your off-hours: The strip club industry exploits loopholes in labor law to routinely underpay strippers or even charge women for the opportunity to work in a club. It's a practice that caused a judge to award $10 million in back pay to strippers who worked for Rick's Cabaret in New York City, and leave open the possibility for even more judgments in favor of the workers in the future.
CBS News talked to the dancers' lawyer, E. Michelle Drake, who described how the club exploited her clients—who are the reason the customers are there in the first place:
What Cops Are Really Thinking When a Woman Claims She Was Raped
Fewer than half of rapes committed in the U.S. are reported to the police, and the vast majority of reported rapes never lead to an arrest. What are these cops thinking? For a study published this month in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Dr. Rachel Venema, a social work professor at Calvin College, interviewed ten cops working in the police department of a midsized, Midwestern city about their experiences responding to reports of sexual assault. Seven of the police officers were male, six of them were white, and their ranks ranged from patrol officer to detective to sergeant. It’s a very small sample, but it provides a fascinating peek into how one police department deals with rape reports in the face of limited departmental resources, and the officers’ own assumptions about who constitute “real” victims.
School Argues in Court That a 14-Year-Old Girl Could Consent to Sex With Her Teacher
Before the 1970s, most rape victims who dared to take their case to trial were forced to undergo a humiliating and degrading experience: The rapists’ attorney would call up a series of witnesses to testify that his female victim was promiscuous, licentious, and immoral. The purpose of this exercise was to convince the jury that the victim was actually a whore, a woman who couldn’t say no to sex. It built on the era’s conventional wisdom about virtue—namely, that if an alleged rape victim wasn’t a virgin, she was a slut who was likely lying about her rape.
Today, almost every state has a “rape shield” law to keep this kind of odious testimony out of trial, including California. That’s why it’s so shocking to read KPCC’s investigation into a recent Los Angeles trial at which a judge permitted evidence of a 14-year-old girl’s sexual history. The girl, a student at an LA public school, had sued her school district for allowing her 28-year-old teacher to molest her, arguing that she was emotionally traumatized. (The teacher is now in prison.) In response, the school district’s lawyer, Keith Wyatt, first claimed that the student was sexually mature enough—at age 14—to engage in consensual sex with her teacher, introducing evidence that she had previously been sexually active. Wyatt then argued that the student was suing the school district only out of greed, telling the jury: