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?