If you want to hear something both poignant and excruciating, take a listen to Scott Simon’s recent interview with Bill and Camille Cosby. It’s pretty tragic stuff, if you think about it, and pretty weird, too. Simon is interviewing the Cosbys in a gallery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, where a large part of their private collection has gone on public display for the first time. It’s a cordial and pleasant conversation until Scott “as a journalist I have to ask” Simon inevitably has to ask Bill Cosby about the most recent allegations of rape that have surfaced against him, and incidentally about cash settlements in undisclosed amounts for previous allegations. Bill Cosby immediately goes silent and says nothing for the remainder of the (apparently truncated) interview, allowing Simon to enter pleas on his behalf: “You’re shaking your head.” He doesn’t even reply when Simon thanks him for agreeing to the interview, leaving it to his relatively obscure wife to offer a rather icy pro forma thank-you on their behalf.
Bill Cosby, of course, has sat for an interview or two in his day, so he knows the protocol that he couldn’t muster the heart to follow, and he was never known to be bashful. This interview is a tape recording of a great man laid low by his lusts in real time. I can’t really recommend listening to it, but I can’t recommend not listening to it, either. There’s insight to be gained into tragic aspects of the human condition, but peace of mind to be lost in the listening. Such things can be hard to unhear.
(Do, however, listen to this interview with Joseph Profaci, the realtor, not the crime boss, about his most prized listing on Staten Island and his reputed connections to “family” life in Chicago.)
No decent person takes pleasure in listening to a famously hail-fellow-well-met entertainer go totally silent when asked about allegations that he has committed rapes. It’s impossible to tell for sure from the tape, but it sounds like Cosby could be plagued with regret and remorse. Is it the remorse of a psychopath? Again, there’s no way to tell. Bill Cosby sounds to me like a man who commits rape with impunity, but no reasonable person envies a man for this privilege; it’s a twisted and tragic way to go through life. Some people smugly note that Cosby is a preachy goody-two-shoes getting his comeuppance. This is an antisocial reaction. It would be one thing to snicker and point fingers if he had been exposed for keeping a multistate harem of mistresses while carping about the decline of family values, but rape is really heavy shit. If he in fact drugged and sexually assaulted a woman in his house, an accusation that he resolved with a 2006 out-of-court monetary settlement, he’s a monster, not a garden-variety cad. Scott Simon pussyfooted around the nature of the allegations leading to this settlement; if anything, he was too sympathetic and gentle.
I have to wonder whether this art interview wasn’t a Trojan horse to get Bill Cosby on the record about the rape allegations. I also wonder why the Cosbys agreed to the interview, given that Bill had just been publicly accused anew of rape.
It was probably hubris. Some people, it seems, simply do not know when to lay low. It got Kennedy dead, after all. “Mr. President, you really shouldn’t ride through Dallas in an open motorcade. There are active plots to assassinate you.” “But the vigah.” “Mr. President, these aren’t the kind of penny-ante kids with big mouths and thick heads we have to track down in Wichita every now and then because they say they’re gonna kill the president. These are serious mob operators. They have detailed plans and hitmen at the ready. These plots in Dallas and Miami are no joke. For God’s sake, don’t ride around either of those cities in an open motorcade.” “Not enough vigah. I can haz vigah! Open motahcade! Up against the wall, signora, if you have five minutes.”
That last line is, in fact, a Kennedyism, or so it has been said, although neither female Secret Service bodyguards nor lolcats were things in the sixties. People back then respected the institution of the presidency. That’s why JFK’s nubile bathtub buddies always called him “Mr. President” during ye olde rub-a-dub. It’s also why the press refused to expose JFK as the incredible manwhore that he was. Well, sort of. A lot of them also had it in for Richard Nixon and a raging hardon for “Camelot.”
Powerful men would probably get away with less of this shit without press complicity, let alone active propaganda from nominally independent and objective reporters. I don’t mean extramarital affairs: if these guys want to get jacked off by hookers and groupies in the bathtub, it’s for their wives to get upset, not their constituents. In point of fact, many political wives are too craven to divorce their philandering husbands. As the old joke goes, what’s the difference between Khrushchev and Kennedy? If Khrushchev died, no way in hell would Onassis marry Nina Andreevna. Yes, le sick burn. But there’s adultery, and then there’s rape, a much, much, much more serious matter. Somewhere in between the two are sexual harassment, sexual quid pro quo as a condition of professional advancement, unwanted groping of subordinates, Dov Charney-style show-and-tell, and so forth. By some accounts, Bill Clinton has worked the entire spectrum from adultery to rape over the coarse of his career. Oh no, did I just insinuate that the Big Dog is unfit for polite company? Why, yes I did. One of the most serious problems with news coverage of the Clinton sex scandals is a near-total failure to distinguish between allegations that amount to horndog/mistress/scorned wife soap operas and ones that involve some form of sexual assault or compulsion under color of authority.
What it comes down to is reporters, editors, producers, media magnates, and private citizens (yes, that’s us) deciding that they like the guy, so let’s don’t take these rape allegations against him seriously because that would be a buzzkill for a visionary man. So they’re allowed to get away with it. The Clintons get away with all sorts of craven predation, sexual and nonsexual, because Republicans are assholes or something. Jian Ghomeshi gets away with assault and strangulation because he was a wicked good interviewer, eh. Michael Jackson gets away with Pedo Bear-approved extracurricular activities at his private amusement park because he made cool music videos and stuff. Woody Allen gets away with a stunning life of sexual dissolution, much of it apparently involving relatives, because he makes cool movies. Roman Polanksi, likewise for drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old. Jerry Sandusky gets away with serial child rape, until he doesn’t any longer, because he organized great offenses. Penn State as an institution gets a pass from its alumni and boosters, who are pissed off that its football team had to forfeit athletic conference standing, not because its administrators harbored a child rapist for over a decade and allowed him to use university property to commit his rapes; the grope and the perv of our Lord’s servant Gerald be with you always. Ben Roethlisberger gets a pass because he knows how to complete a pass. Although I’m not one to wave the Terrible Towel, I’ll be the first to admit that that boy knows how to fucking throw the pigskin, and the last to admit that he’s a decent person. It shouldn’t be that hard to distinguish athletic prowess on the field from evil off the field, but maybe it is. And Aaron Hernandez? Holy fucking shit. The greatest testimony to Tim Tebow’s moral character, as opposed to all the preening about his great religiosity, is that he once tried to talk Aaron Hernandez down from starting a bar fight. That takes more balls than Hernandez has in the way of brains.
Bill Cosby gets away with rape because he was funny on television and tries to edify young black men, etc. Well, that’s nice, since he seems to be a failure in the area of not having company over for the purpose of drugging and rape.
What’s worst about these scandals isn’t that these guys are committing rapes, sexual assaults, vicious batteries on strangers, and other violent crimes. If they were committing these crimes as obscure private citizens, they’d probably be held to some sort of account. The most serious problem is that they have legions of fixers, colleagues, and corporate attorneys and executives acting as their accessories. These people either know or have good reason to believe that they’re violent, and they do nothing about it. They don’t raise an alarm. They don’t cry out. To the contrary, they keep inviting known or strongly suspected violent predators into positions of influence. They keep giving these predators interview slots, television contracts, movie roles, spots on sports teams, and endorsement deals. Practically no one is willing to use information from the insider grapevine to blacklist celebrities who are known or strongly believed to be dangerous. Practically no organization is willing to quietly disassociate itself from these creeps. Those that do are widely smeared as prudes or scolds, and maybe that’s what they are, but the company that one keeps is one’s own decision, and information about the predatory or outright violent proclivities of other people should be grounds enough to shut them the hell out of one’s professional life.
All kinds of compromising information about prominent individuals is in circulation and available for those who are in the loop. You and I don’t usually hear about it, but the power brokers who decide to book celebrities like Bill Cosby do. They know things, and these are not things that they read on the cover of the National Enquirer in a checkout line at the IGA. It’s more like someone has a trusted, long-term acquaintance who personally witnessed Succubus A hike up her miniskirt in front of University President X at Benefit Event Y, in public, and all parties to this pathetic hot mess have either advanced degrees or personal acquaintances with at least one head of state or cabinet-level official in a national government. You don’t know the people who know the people I know. Or maybe you do. I once met a guy who thought that Jamul was one of the apostles (“Who was the apostle who was closest to Jesus?”), and I’m sure no one figured that I went to college in order to end up associating with people like him in East County quasi-squalor without getting paid for my trouble. But it’s by design that he has no idea of how closely connected I am to people like Kevin Faulconer, Dana Rohrabacher, and the Queen of England. Actually, I’m not sure about Faulconer, but I once chatted with some hella cool San Diego city employees on the Green Line, and one of them knew Jan Goldsmith, so probably.
Did I mention that my parents once had dinner with Geraldo?
Get high enough, and everyone is covering someone’s ass. The sad thing is that the ass being covered is usually someone else’s. Self-interest refracted through a funhouse mirror may end up actually being someone else’s self-interest, but that doesn’t make it selflessness. I’ve peered into this world on occasion, and baby, I do not like what I see. It can be ugly. There isn’t a hell of a lot of spare principle to be found. People can be convinced to keep grave secrets, and to do so absent attorney-client privilege or doctor-patient privilege or the seal of the confessional, in exchange for salaries in the mid-five to low-six figures. Because it isn’t really about the principle of discretion. It’s about self-advancement. One goes along to get along.
The mercenary gossip mongers who pay the best rates for juicy tips aid this regime by having absolutely no credibility of their own: okay, maybe Bill Cosby is a rapist, but you also paid some fuckhead to take photos of Britney Spears buying tampons, so sure.
Ben Franklin was a dirty old man who said that a chap could always put a bag over a MILF’s head if her face was that much homelier than the rest of her, but he also said that we have a republic, madam, if you can keep it. The answer to the last condition, it seems, is no, we can’t. Not if there’s one set of rules for privileged Philadelphians like Bill Cosby and another for ordinary Philadelphians like the indigent fat guy who was caught banging the transvestite crack whore in his hospital bed at Hanheman. I don’t know what the ultimate disposition of that case was, but I’m sure it was not an out-of-court settlement.
At least Scott Simon treasures our republic enough to ask Cosby whether he’s a rapist. It’s unpleasant, maybe even as unpleasant as the sight of a blue-begowned J. Edgar Hoover on a late-stage Marlon Brando in a charity hospital, but it’s important. Self-government and the rule of law can withstand adulterers, probably some crack whores, and definitely a level of urban filth that you won’t believe until you’ve visited Philadelphia, but it cannot withstand celebrity rapists.