The highest profile celebrity scandal that is currently unfolding is the case of Bill Cosby who is facing accusations from more than 30 women who claim the comedian sexually assaulted them with incidents alleged to have occurred well over the span of his career. Naturally the responses have been as strong as they have been varied from shock and outrage to clumsy and often irresponsible journalism and even biting satire.
But the most interesting response has been the staunch doubling down of support for those who hold the accused in high regard. I'm referring not to the passive, reasonable members of the public who weigh the preponderance evidence and at some point re-consider their support after a certain threshold is crossed. (Those people are represented by opinion polls that slowly waiver as headlines unfold).
The kind of supporters I mean are the ones who hide behind the phrase "he hasn't been charged with anything!" This strain of the public seems to operate under the impression that their man is the underdog in the story and immediately seek alternate explanations that at first boarder on the improbable but soon balloon into full-fledged conspiracy theories.
Last year, Toronto had its conservative crack smoking mayor who was ultimately defeated at the polls last October, but not without a virulent population who deflected and denied all of their heroes ill deeds in the face of overwhelming evidence. The court of public opinion weighed heavily against him, a nucleus of die-hard adherents closed ranks around their besieged Mayor and claimed he was the victim of various left-wing conspiracies. Even when the man admitted on live television to smoking crack, the cognitive dissonance simply doubled down.
In Bill Cosby's circumstance, the accusations are vastly more serious however a similar phenomena of denial swirls around the man as he continues a North American stand up tour. The tone of this support may not be as shrill as those who defended Canada's most reckless mayor but the language is the same and the implications more damning.
One hand, (public opinion notwithstanding) innocence until proven guilty in a court of law must always remain the standard of justice in any criminal case let alone sexual assault. At the same time, the protection of victims who come forward is equally vital for there to be any case at all. Siding with Cosby in the face of 35 women who have spoken on record and in the case of Lise-Lotte Lublin, attempting to change state laws surrounding the statute of limitations, is to do more damage than believe in a conspiracy to bring down this man.
Allegations of this magnitude and quantity are met with suspicion or contempt the underlying reasons appear painfully familiar. Doubting the women's accounts or flat-out condemning them as liars looking for their fifteen-minutes of fame is hard to mistake for anything other than blatant misogyny and part of what many feminists refer to as "rape culture."
Bill Cosby is a grown man and quite wealthy; he can afford to face such allegations and doesn't need members from the general public to engage in disturbing mental gymnastics in his defense. It's one thing to reserve judgment until someone has their day in court, it's quite another to entertain the idea that 35 women would endure such a horrific, public and humiliating ordeal that is sure to last years whether it goes through the courts or not, and all for the sake of a book deal or mere cash settlement. Simply put, there are easier ways to earn a buck than lying about one of the worst crimes a human being can commit upon another.