But He Seemed Like Such a Nice Guy

A highly-respected local columnist is catching it on Facebook because of a piece he published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel entitled “This is the Bill Cosby I Know.” The columnist, Eugene Kane, came to know Bill Cosby after criticizing him for one of his famous rants about ‘all that is wrong about the black community.’

Kane talks about the Bill Cosby he came to know and it’s clear he both likes and admires the guy but, as a journalist, can’t ignore the claims of a growing number of women that Cosby drugged and raped them. No one but the world’s biggest misogynist idiot would advance the idea that over a dozen women are lying or have somehow orchestrated their stories so that they each sounds like the same movie rerun a dozen times. And Eugene Kane, a writer whose work I’ve read for years and who I would trust to have the right, common sense, progressive opinion about 99% of the issues facing our community, is not a misogynist nor an idiot.

Yet his struggle to sync his famous friend’s magnetic personality and good works with the extensively documented pattern of sexual assault gets tangled on the page. It surprises me that Kane, a newspaper reporter before he was a columnist, seems so flummoxed by this. Even I know that most really bad guys act pretty darn regular most of the time. Rapists don’t run around raping people 24/7. They have jobs. They go to school. They raise children, go to their mom’s on Thanksgiving. People can be really, really bad guys and still say ‘excuse me’ when they belch and drive nice in bad traffic.

The acute discomfort that so many seem to feel because of their inability to reconcile Cosby’s American’s Dad image with the rapist label reminds me of the years of denial exercised by Penn State about Jerry Sandusky’s repeated sexual abuse of young boys. In that case, Sandusky was even caught showering with a little boy in the Penn State locker room. But that wasn’t enough to take action. Apparently, the Penn State administrators were stuck in the same ‘I don’t get it’ place that Eugene Kane describes so well. How could a well-known coach working with the revered Joe Paterno at THE Pennsylvania State University actually be a child rapist?

Just doesn’t compute. Bad guys don’t do things like coach college football, stand on the sidelines on beautiful fall days, waiting for the Penn State marching band to finish playing “The Nittany Lion.” So because his crimes didn’t fit the wholesomeness of college football, everyone filed accusations about his sexual abuse of children in a small folder in the back of the cabinet. Oh, the accusations were there, all right, but hard to get to, shadowy, and more and more discredited the longer left untouched.

Now, what happened to Jerry Sandusky is happening to Bill Cosby. First one person and then another and another went into the file cabinet and started added a lot of paper to that thin folder. The first person in each case was the strongest person, the one who could only hope to get all of their story told before the first critic started with the shaming and ridicule. Picture this: you are one person with a couple thousand dollars in the bank, maybe you have a family or not, but you have a job and no one at your job has any idea about your past even though what happened to you at the hands of a rapist makes you sick every time you think about it which is pretty much every day and you are now going to stand up in front of the world and accuse a very famous and very rich person of a terrible crime. At this point, there’s no army of victims standing with you. You are a tiny person in a canyon.

In both the Cosby and Sandusky cases, it required a steady, unrelenting stream of accusers for the accusations to stick and for the authorities, the press, the public to acknowledge ‘ah well, where there’s smoke there’s fire,’ in these cases, a line of smoke for incidents old and new, bridging decades, a smoldering forest fire running the whole length of the Rocky Mountains. Yes, the smoke would be a very big tip-off.

On the flip side of the impossible to accuse are the quickly accused. In these cases, generally involving young African American men, accusations of criminal behavior are so absolutely in sync with what people already think about them, there is no struggle to align the crime with the person. The same incongruity that seems to be giving us fits with Bill Cosby doesn’t exist with this group. Central city black man robs somebody on the street. No surprise here, no need to have it happen a hundred times before we get it. Once is plenty. Compare and contrast.

In the end, I sympathize with Mr. Kane’s quandary. He seems to find it hard to believe the accusations against Bill Cosby because to do so would negate what he believes he knows about the man. That, in turn, would call into question his own ability to read people, to sort out the bad guys from the good guys and, Lord knows, we all think we can do just that. We steer clear of the former and hang out with the latter. We don’t like getting that mixed up, our own taxonomy of goodness and badness has kept us out of trouble all these years. Why does Bill Cosby have to go and screw that up?

Good question, my friend. But not the most important one. What we need to ask is this: what happens next?

7 Comments on “But He Seemed Like Such a Nice Guy

  1. What does happen next? A powerful question, and sadly the answer will probably be ‘not much’. Look at all the examples to prove that answer. The Catholic church for starters. Yes, in Penn State Sandusky got jail time, although that was a case of far too little far too late. What should happen next is that society finally attempts to figure out how to create safe environments for those abused to speak out. But considering all the myriad of reasons why people don’t speak out, I have no idea how that will happen. Or society tries to figure out a way to remove stigma – as you posted previously, we do know stigma can be removed. The problem for me is being clueless how to effect change on the minuscule piece of earth I stand on.

  2. Thanks, Jan. I have a friend who said she worked with him on a commercial and shared that he was absolutely controlling and difficult to work with. It shattered my childhood worship of him as such a funny, incredible man. Hmmm… Hard to believe, but so sad to hear again and again. You’re really taking a bold stance.

  3. For me the next most important question is, where are the people who knew but didn’t talk? I don’t mean victims but friends, family, anyone they told this to. Hard to believe no one said a word all these years. When will we stop hiding things? I too am disappointed in a man I admired as I am disappointed in many others who have lied, scammed, withheld info etc over the last many years. Who are we to believe?

    • Hi Sandy, As someone who was sexually abused as a child, I would guess they did tell someone but that someone didn’t want to believe them (just like now). You learn to shut up about it very quickly because it is usually seen as the female’s fault. She did something to ask for the advances, she isn’t telling the truth, etc. etc. Think about Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinski. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say, ‘Hey Bill, you were the one with the power. You were the one that had the responsibility of saying no, even if she did want it.’ And as Jan pointed out, Bill Cosby wasn’t a totally bad guy – but when he was bad, it appears he was really, really bad. I, too, wish there was a way we could bet past our biases so we could find justice. I share your anger, Sandy.

  4. I’ve stayed away from the stories – not because I don’t believe them because I do – but because my disgust with Bill Cosby runs so deep now. He had it all, that didn’t give him the right to take. No means no, no matter how powerful, how influential, or how popular you might be. Anything less than yes means no and will always mean no.

  5. I heard him interviewed before the column came out, and he was a little more able to say “I was wowed by him, and now, not so much.” That’s a huge paraphrase and I’ve taken liberties but I think that’s the gist. But I agree: I read the column and though huh?

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