STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's get as many facts as we can behind an excruciating moment on the radio. Bill Cosby appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition on Saturday. The subject was an art exhibit, but my colleague Scott Simon also asked about a huge subject on social media and in the regular media. He asked about claims that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted women years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: There have been serious allegations raised about you in recent days. You're shaking your head no. I'm in the news business. I have to ask the question; do you have any response to those charges? Shaking your head no. There are people who love you who might like to hear from you about this. I want to give you the chance - all right.
INSKEEP: Cosby'S silence made at least as much news as if he'd spoken. Let's look closely at the underlying facts, at least the ones that are known and also what's been made of them. We're joined now by NPR's Eric Deggans who's covered Bill Cosby over the years. Hi, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: And also NPR's David Folkenflik who covers the media for us. Hi, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: Gentlemen, just the facts here. What are the allegations?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's look back. There was initially this allegation about a 2004 incident filed in 2005 by a woman named Andrea Constand. She was filing a civil suit, and in the course of that suit, it emerged that there would be 13 women in all who would be willing to testify against Bill Cosby that he had essentially sexually assaulted them. In her case, there was the allegation also that he essentially drugged her and made her incapacitated to be able to resist. That suit was subsequently settled. No terms of it were disclosed, and no charges were filed.
INSKEEP: So that's one case. Are there others, Eric Deggans?
DEGGANS: Yes, well we know that there are four women total who have - their names are attached to these allegations. One woman, Barbara Bowman, has done an interview with Newsweek and with other sources. She's talked to CNN. She's written an op-ed for The Washington Post. There are two other women who've spoken to various news outlets. Tamara Green also spoke to Newsweek. And Beth Ferrier has spoken to news outlets in the past. And they all seem to tell similar stories of receiving some sort of substance from Bill Cosby and feeling strange and then later concluding that they were sexually assaulted.
INSKEEP: OK, so we have four women who've put their names on allegations. There's a number of other women described as Jane Does who were said to have made some kind of claim here. And the suit was settled in 2006, but that was a civil lawsuit concerning what would be criminal behavior if it were true. Were any criminal charges ever filed?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, a key moment occurred when the district attorney for the suburban county outside Philadelphia, at that time, said that his people had looked into these charges and found insufficient credible and admissible evidence upon which any charge against Mr. Cosby could be sustained beyond a reasonable doubt. Now interestingly, he also said that detectives could find no instance, quote, "where anyone complained to law enforcement of conduct which would constitute a criminal offense." An interesting way to parse it, given that certainly it would seem that as part of the civil lawsuit that a number of women were willing to come forward.
INSKEEP: Now there is the matter of course of Cosby's side of this. We did not hear him say a word to Scott Simon on Saturday. But, Eric Deggans, has Cosby ever addressed these claims?
DEGGANS: He did do an interview with the National Enquirer in 2005 where he seemed to allude to - in Constand's case, specifically, that there was a misunderstanding. And he apologized for that misunderstanding and the impact on his family of the allegations. His representatives of course have denied many different claims and said that they're either the result of misunderstandings or they didn't happen at all.
INSKEEP: Now, why did this case resurface in recent days?
DEGGANS: Well, in some ways, this case has never really gone away. Whenever Bill Cosby's name comes forward in the public eye, there seems to be this sort of flurry of activity in some areas of the press and in social media to remind people that these allegations were out there. When a best-selling biography about him came to the fore, we saw websites like Gawker put up stories to remind people that allegations were out there. And the stand-up comic Hannibal Buress also had a joke in his routine where he talked about Bill Cosby being accused of rape. And that became a viral video that people passed around. And I think we have enough distance from Cosby's legacy as a superstar that there's a whole generation of people on social media who don't necessarily see him as the benevolent titan that he once was in show business and refuse to let it lie.
INSKEEP: Now, David Folkenflik, has the mainstream media that you cover struggled with how to handle the story?
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. I mean, I think that you've see moments where this has been covered - People magazine, the "Today" show and others, but even now, we're seeing a struggle to define what our standards are. Mark Whitaker, the author of that Cosby biography, decided not to address this in his book. He couldn't prove it and decided not to pursue it. But, you know, in this instance, it's kind of hard to imagine constructing a credible, you know, 360 view of this very influential and important figure's life without acknowledging that in not in one instance, there wasn't just a settled case, but that other women by name have come forward to allege this serious, serious harm being done to them by the same man. And so I think you're seeing a struggle between media new and old, between generations and also between the question of, you know, are we protecting access by not asking questions that are too uncomfortable?
INSKEEP: NPR's David Folkenflik and Eric Deggans. Thanks to you both.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.