For Bill Cosby, No Escape From the Damage to His Legacy

Bill Cosby is a poor object of sympathy, especially if there’s even a crumb of truth behind the renewed allegations of sexual assault that have been levied against him.

Showered with attention and adulation through the years, he built an empire through sitcoms and standup stemming from his family-friendly image, but was forced in the 1990s to admit extramarital affairs, awkwardly referring to them as a “rendezvous.” What some have seen as his lecturing of African-Americans has also rankled members of that community, including comedian Hannibal Buress, whose references to the rape charges were instrumental in stoking current coverage of the controversy.

Yet in the face of Cosby’s ongoing public-relations woes, one can at least feel for the no-win conundrum facing those tasked with defending him.

Thanks to his success and wealth, Cosby has long had an imperious, almost didactic attitude when it comes to dealing with the press. And as witnessed when he simply chose not to respond to questions during an NPR interview – clamming up on radio, no less — that renders him a poor spokesman on his own behalf in countering these charges.

In public-relations terms, Cosby has clearly moved past the point of putting out a statement dismissing the multiple claims as having been “discredited” years ago, and hoping that will make the scandal go away. As the Washington Post noted, “Ignoring the situation only made it worse.”

At this point, someone is going to have to sit down and seek to publicly refute these accounts, not necessarily point by point, but in a manner that goes beyond just saying the equivalent of “Trust me.” There is also the matter of explaining what would motivate these women – not just one, but several – to lie.

No representative, however – even one as experienced in these crisis PR situations as attorney Marty Singer – is going to be able to deflect the controversy without greater involvement by Cosby himself. The problem is the only thing that could look worse than Cosby’s silence, potentially, is how the comic himself might come across in the face of tough questioning.

Given what a public figure Cosby has been throughout his life, and the likelihood many will believe his accusers no matter what he says, this sets up significant dilemma. Cosby can seek to address the situation head-on, with no assurance that will allow him to rehabilitate his reputation; or choose to stay quiet, which would very likely entail living out his days as a pariah – someone with whom no network, streaming service or sponsor would understandably want to be associated.

The media are hardly known for long attention spans, and if Cosby opts for the latter path, the drip, drip, drip of accusations will inevitably begin to subside. Yet he will no longer be able to perform – or certainly do interviews to promote any of his appearances – without inviting a new round of uncomfortable questions.

Cosby doesn’t need the money, but the fact he’s still headlining specials and concerts as a septuagenarian makes clear that isn’t his main priority.

Singer responded aggressively in denying the latest allegations by former model Janice Dickinson, but for Cosby, there ultimately might be no escaping the cloud this snowballing series of events has cast over his legacy — and how many people will never be able to see him as a benign figure again. And while the charges were never fully vetted in a court of law, in the court of public opinion, the mega-rich entertainer could very well wind up sentenced, for the remainder of his days, to the unfamiliar confines of solitude.

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