DAVID GREENE, HOST:
His statue has been removed by Disney World. Reruns of his sitcom have been dropped by a cable channel, and there are calls to revoke his presidential medal. We're talking about Bill Cosby. Court papers released Monday showed the superstar comedian obtained drugs have to sex with women. Of course dozens of women have accused Cosby of rape and sexual misconduct going back decades, but many people didn't believe the accusations until now. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans looks at why, and we should add this story may not be appropriate for younger listeners.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Barbara Bowman says one word came to mind when she heard a deposition transcript had been released this week in which Bill Cosby admitted obtaining Quaaludes to have sex with women. That word was vindication.
BARBARA BOWMAN: Shattering the silence had been my mission for 10 years, and so it was a great day when we got the news.
DEGGANS: Bowman is one of the first women to publicly accuse Cosby of drugging and raping her. She said the incidents happened in the late '80s when she was a teenager after she was introduced to the comedian by her agent and Cosby agreed to mentor her.
BOWMAN: I was being drugged and raped and being shifted around from apartment to apartment to hide the facts. And yes, I did tell my agent. And yes, I did tell people, but no one was listening. I was basically - really felt like I was being hidden in plain sight.
DEGGANS: In 2004, Bowman went public, agreeing to testify in a lawsuit filed by another woman accusing Cosby of similar behavior. It was a deposition from that lawsuit settled in 2006 that was released this week. Bowman says what helped keep the public from focusing on the allegations for so long was the power of Cosby's celebrity and his image as a principled father.
BOWMAN: It was the mid-'80s. It was the height of Cosby's cultural fame. He was Dr. Huxtable. He was America's favorite dad, and everyone wanted him to be their dad.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BILL COSBY: I'm a father, and fathers are the geniuses of the house; only a person as intelligent as we could fake such stupidity.
DEGGANS: Cosby's paternal image was also a big business. By early 1992, "The Cosby Show" reportedly had earned $1 billion in syndication revenue. Bowman and other accusers have claimed some of those people benefiting from Cosby's business also acted to protect him. During the deposition, the comic also admitted giving money to some of his accusers. Bill Cosby was also especially popular. According to Advertising Age magazine, his approval rating in 2003 was surpassed only by the pope. Fans think they know stars who are that famous. And as Bowman notes, it's much harder to believe someone you think you know could be capable of such serious crimes.
BOWMAN: People are struggling now with separating the man from the character. And the deception of accepting the awards and beginning the philanthropist and being Dr. Huxtable really played on the ideals of the people that revered him.
DEGGANS: Cosby's never been charged with a crime and his representatives have denied many allegations. His lawyer and publicist did not respond to request for comment for this story and neither did a number of people we contacted who were close to him. So what changed? First, a clip of comic Hannibal Buress calling Cosby a rapist went viral last October and Cosby refused to respond to the allegations, including on NPR. Second, the public is now more sensitive to allegations of sexual assault. Next, Bob Meadows, a former writer for People magazine who covered Cosby, says the comic's image as the ultimate dad has faded. Instead, he's known for delivering cutting criticism of youth culture in black communities.
BOB MEADOWS: Bill Cosby is - has become something of a scold, someone who is constantly harping on the issues of the black community and how blacks need to straighten out their own houses. And a lot of people are looking at him like pot calling kettle black.
DEGGANS: Cosby's public scoldings were even cited by the judge as a reason he ordered release of the deposition material this week. The deposition has also changed minds. R&B singer Jill Scott this week recanted her past support of Cosby, writing on Twitter that the transcript, quote, "offers proof of terrible deeds." Bill Cosby's own words may have unraveled his image faster than any allegation. I'm Eric Deggans.
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