Share this article

print logo

Is Bill Cosby still news at this stage?

Bill Cosby’s incriminating deposition was the lead story of NBC’s Sunday dinnertime news.

The lead story.

Let me confess that I’m torn by this.

What I am NOT torn by is the right and the need of those who say they’re his victims to find all possible recourses against him. Because of statutes of limitation, legal recourse against him – criminal or civil – seems to be inordinately difficult, if not impossible. That leaves his accusers with only one avenue for justice: continual media scrutiny, with the desired result of changing forever what people think of whenever they hear the name “Bill Cosby.”

My problem at this moment is this: I’d argue that happened months ago. No matter how many foolish holdouts like Whoopi Goldberg finally change their minds (the first reports of his deposition admitting connecting quaaludes to his extracurricular sex life did it for Whoopi), the court of public opinion returned with its verdict weeks ago.

President Obama would never have taken the trouble at a news conference to define as rape the drugging of unconsenting partners for sex if he hadn’t successfully taken the temperature of the American mainstream and found almost all parents of daughters a bit sickened by Cosby.

He was, at the time, answering a question about withdrawing Cosby’s presidential medal of freedom. No procedure exists for such a thing, he said.

So, my argument, however cynical it may sound, is that Bill Cosby is old news. We’ve made up our minds out here in the couch potato majority, no matter what the strictest legalities might say.

I’m not saying that he couldn’t still, somewhat incredibly, fill halls from Boston to Boise with comedy audiences waiting to see one of the greatest and most important stand-up comedians America ever had. As long as his comedy chops at his age remain viable at all, that is likely to be true. NBC news could broadcast tapes of Cosby committing every act he’s accused of and he’d probably still get audiences on tour.

His reputation was wiped out weeks ago and that’s not likely to change. You can bet the farm that his alma mater Temple University is never going to name buildings after him. I wouldn’t bet on Spelman College keeping his name on their Cosby building either. You won’t see magnificent edifices one day housing the Cosby Collection of African Art – not the way things look now.

He is, as some of his fellow comedians have publicly admitted, already dead as a matter of public repute.

That’s why I’m so torn by a network leading off a Sunday news broadcast with the New York Times’ finally printing the contents of a Cosby deposition in a victim’s lawsuit that was ultimately settled out of court.

I understand what the Times thought it was doing and applaud it. In the face of Cosby’s stonewall on the subject of his sexual past, they found things he had said on the record that came as close to corroborating accuser accounts as anything we’re likely to see. Here was legal fact, not surmise.

The fact that the deposition insisted weirdly on some kind of “consensuality” gave me a chilling thought: What if the tip about the deposition came from the Cosby camp? What if his team, legal and publicity, actually thinks the deposition is in some crazy way exculpatory, despite its connecting of quaaludes and Cosby’s rapacious search for sex with young women?

All that needs to be done is what journalists often do: Let public records speak for themselves – eloquently.

That’s all well and good, but I want to know now to what degree this is front page news.

I submit that it no longer is. It’s not a lead-off story on network nightly news either – not unless news organizations now blatantly admit that Cosby’s name and case are being used as ratings or circulation builders or, as they’re called in the digital world, clickbait.

All the decisive damage was done weeks ago, when even Cosby fans of all possible fairness, affection and good will ceded that the stories about his behavior were too plentiful and too sickeningly similar (though, crucially, not identical) to be ignored.

Was there any intelligent and prudent news consumer who felt the same about him afterward?

Our trouble is that whatever the accusers might want, he is never going to stop being a giant and extraordinary figure in the HISTORY of American culture and comedy. O.J. Simpson’s yardage totals can’t be erased either.

Except for a wildly irrational minority – which no longer includes Whoopi Goldberg – Bill Cosby is, to all intents and purposes, over as a public figure.

The tragedy has been played out and seems to have come to a dead end. A hugely talented and important man has been publicly revealed for all time to be privately creepy at best and criminal at worst. Proven? No. Revealed, yes.

At what point do attention-dependent media have to admit that, when major media are only desperate to tell us things that we already know, we know in our hearts that it’s no longer “news.”

By all means, call it whatever you want. What I know for sure is that it’s not “news” of the sort that leads off nightly news broadcasts.