Charges against Bill Cosby for aggravated indecent assault, which his legal team tried to have dismissed on Monday, have reignited a debate not just about the comedian’s guilt or innocence but about the role of race and racism. While many former defenders have defected over mounting allegations and revelations from an unsealed deposition, some of the people who continue to champion Cosby are framing it as the latest example of a racist criminal justice system which punishes Black men for doing things that white men get away with. Rapper Waka Flocka tweeted that he think’s the someone is “framing” Cosby, through “an organized lie,” and “propaganda.” He also tweeted that, “Every time a famous minority make it they throw salt in the game.” Rapper The Game took to Instagram, where posted an blank white image with the word Black and commented,
“I think it’s crazy that Bill Cosby has a mugshot for alleged assaults 11 years ago with no physical evidence or proof besides these womens accounts of what he did to them an entire decade later…. But Darren Wilson, who killed Mike Brown on camera… George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin… Timothy Loehman, who killed Tamir Rice seconds after arriving on the scene.. on camera, is FREE… Why did it take these women over 10 years to bring this to the light ?- The Game #BlackLivesSplatter
In order to further explore how Black comedians were navigating this issue, I spoke to Rae Sanni and Tarik Daniels on my radio show. Sanni told us, “There’s a lot of people who bring up Woody Allen or Roman Polanski when you talk about Bill Cosby and say this guy got away with rape,” she said. “That is uninteresting to me because the idea that equality is everybody getting away with rape is silly.” For Sanni, “people like Eddie Griffin, who attribute accusations against Cosby to “an attempt at the destruction of the Black man, are the kind of people that think that Black liberation doesn’t necessarily include Black women. Because if you think that the way to Black liberation is to allow the abuse of one half of the population, then you don’t believe in Black liberation at all. You actually just want the access to patriarchy that white males have access to.”
The media is turning what should be a story about Bill Cosby being called out for rape into a story about a “rude” heckler who “interrupted” the comedian. And it’s not just the usual suspects like Fox News. In a post on Gawker called “Heckler to Cosby: ‘Tell the One About How to Get Away With Rape’,” Jay Hathaway writes:
At his Baltimore show Friday night, it took just 15 minutes before a protester shouted at Cosby about his many, many alleged crimes, the Baltimore City Paper reported. They posted a video of the encounter, showing a guy later identified as Michael Crook hollering “38 women called you a rapist!” and “Tell the one about how to get away with rape.”
See what Hathaway does? He tells us what happens and uses a headline which focuses on what was said to Cosby. Similarly, Ethan Sacks wrote this headline in his article for The Daily News: “Bill Cosby heckled at Baltimore show after more rape accusers come forward.” This headline puts the heckling in the context of even more accusations against Cosby.
What neither Sachs nor Hathaway does is vilify the audience member who is angry that Cosby is selling out shows despite having been accused of rape and sexual assault by 38 women. Both headlines emphasize what the heckler is doing to Cosby, or what is being done to Cosby. They do not emphasize Cosby’s response. Because that’s not what the story is about.
You can watch the video of what happened here.
And yet, not all media outlets are taking that perspective. For many, the story is about Bill Cosby’s words and actions, not about the words and actions of the heckler. Let’s review the different ways Cosby is being portrayed.
Bill Cosby responds when he is interrupted by a really rude guy! Who’s the real victim?
The Grio writes “Bill Cosby responds to concert heckler who shouts ’38 women called you a rapist.” At least it includes the allegation. But the subtitle of the piece reads, “Comedian Bill Cosby was rudely interrupted by a heckler during his Baltimore concert Friday night.” I’m not sure the issue here is rudeness and decorum.
Bill Cosby, the Upworthy Hero
Then there’s this Upworthy-like headline from The Independent which reads, “This is how Bill Cosby responded when a heckler brought up rape allegations.” The only thing that’s missing is an, “And you won’t believe it!” tagged on to the end of the header.
Bill Cosby: Defiant and unstoppable!
Bill Cosby: Fired up and firing back and also kinda the peace-maker at the same time!
The Wrap headline reads: “Bill Cosby Fires Back at Heckler who shouts ‘tell the one about how to get away with rape’.” The subtitle says, “TV legend tries to calm tensions at the Baltimore show by telling fans ‘We are here to enjoy my gift’.”
Bill Cosby: Let the man speak! Before we kick him out!
Let these headlines be an example of how not to cover a story.
UPDATE: Right After I published the post below, Don Lemon went on TV to apologize for his question: “As I am a victim myself I would never want to suggest that any victim could have prevented a rape. If my question to her struck anyone as insensitive, I’m sorry as that certainly was not my intention.”
The apology was so thoughtful and heartfelt, it took all of 14 seconds.
CNN host Don Lemon is being mocked and criticized, and rightly so, for his incredibly victim-blaming interview of a woman who said she was raped by Bill Cosby. What makes Lemon’s insensitivity and inappropriateness even more disturbing is the fact that he himself is the survivor of sexual abuse.