Justice Unserved

A few thoughts about the Cosby news.

Justice Unserved

One thing to remember as Bill Cosby walks free is that he didn't do what he did alone. No monster does. Not at that scale. Among his enablers were his agents at William Morris, who reportedly attempted to pay off one or more of his victims; his lawyers, like the notorious Hollywood fixer Martin Singer; and the media, whose failures David Carr eloquently described in 2014:

What took so long is that those in the know kept it mostly to themselves. No one wanted to disturb the Natural Order of Things, which was that Mr. Cosby was beloved; that he was as generous and paternal as his public image; and that his approach to life and work represented a bracing corrective to the coarse, self-defeating urban black ethos.

Only the first of those things was actually true.

Those in the know included Mark Whitaker, who did not find room in his almost-500-page biography, “Cosby: His Life and Times,” to address the accusations that Mr. Cosby had assaulted numerous women, at least four of whom had spoken on the record and by name in the past about what they say Mr. Cosby did to them.

Those in the know also included Ta-Nehisi Coates, who elided the charges in a long and seemingly comprehensive article about Mr. Cosby in The Atlantic in 2008.

Those in the know included Kelefa T. Sanneh, who wrote a major profile in The New Yorker this past September and who treated the accusations as an afterthought, referring to them quickly near the end of the piece.

And those in the know also included me. In 2011, I did a Q. and A. with Mr. Cosby for Hemispheres magazine, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, and never found the space or the time to ask him why so many women had accused him of drugging and then assaulting them.

We all have our excuses, but in ignoring these claims, we let down the women who were brave enough to speak out publicly against a powerful entertainer.

A second thing to remember is that none of the systems that enabled Cosby have changed in any fundamental way. Endeavor, née William Morris, is still one of Hollywood's most powerful agencies. Its recent credits include a $375,000 settlement with Terry Crews, who accused agent Adam Venit of groping him several years ago. Endeavor's CEO, Ari Emanuel, is a friend of David Pecker, head of the tabloid publisher American Media Inc., which paid hush money on behalf of Donald Trump and allegedly on behalf of Cosby. (Trump was a WME client until 2016; AMI is repped by one of Endeavor's subsidiaries.) It also recently sued the Writers Guild of America to protect its right to exploit writers.

Then there's the American legal profession, which remains committed as ever to the morally vacuous principle that civil attorneys actually have nothing to do with the sins of their clients. Lavely & Singer, the firm run by former Cosby attack dog Martin Singer, currently represents Chris D'Elia. Another hotshot Hollywood lawyer, Bryan Freedman, currently represents the woman who just filed a domestic violence restraining order against Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer. Somehow he also represents Jeff Ross, whose friend Elon Gold recently told me "all the press dropped the story" about the allegations against Ross because Freedman "sent a mountain of evidence" discrediting them. Just another day at the office.

Then there's the press. Where to start? Two days ago Variety proudly boasted of its continued partnership with Just For Laughs, the company run for decades by another serial rapist who walked free. Now JFL is run merely by the serial rapist's longtime deputy, whose longtime booker was outed last month as a monstrous creep. (The festival is also co-owned by talent agency ICM Partners, recently accused of mistreating its low-level workers in myriad gruesome ways. Here I will disclaim that this paragraph does not intend to equate its various subjects' alleged conduct.) Eleven months before Vulture posted about the recent sexual misconduct allegations against Thomas Middleditch, it rapturously predicted that his Netflix special would revolutionize improv. This came almost a year after Middleditch admitted to coercing his wife into an open relationship, an admission many other outlets were equally happy to forget. (I've already questioned Vulture's embarrassing friendliness with Lorne Michaels; in 2016 it also let Louis CK bat away questions about the long-circulating rumors about him.) In 2019, the New York Times and the New Yorker both treated Louis CK's comeback tour as a purely artistic matter, neither bothering to question the systems that welcomed him back so readily, nor to wonder what he might do with the power he was rebuilding.

I could go on, but you get the point. It doesn't always take a National Enquirer-style catch-and-kill to protect Hollywood's abusers. Usually it just takes business as usual. Practically the entire Hollywood press is dependent on access and fan service and live events and paid partnerships and branded content and SEO, which means it's dependent on the delusion that abuse in Hollywood is the exception rather than the rule. It would have to change everything just to cover the real world.

Which is a great shame, because the real world is nothing like the delusion. We cannot forget this. An astonishing number of women spoke out about Bill Cosby's horrific abuses. They were all failed by Hollywood, the media, and the justice system. It is now incumbent on these institutions to ask themselves, constantly and unsparingly, whom they're still failing and why.