On Wednesday, two women who said they were sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby, including one who would have been 17 at the time, found out that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office wasn't pursuing charges against the 78-year-old comedian. As has proved the case for the vast majority of the 50-plus others who have come forward to accuse the comedian of rape, the statute of limitations on the allegations has expired, prosecutors believed. (The one exception so far is the 2005 accusation leveled by Andrea Constand that finally resulted in criminal charges against Cosby in Pennsylvania on December 30.)
Whatever the legal consequences, Cosby is essentially disgraced in the eyes of the public. Since the allegations against him became well-known, he's lost an NBC sitcom and Netflix special, statues of him were removed from a Disney theme park and in LA, and even President Barack Obama basically apologized for not having the power to revoke Cosby's Medal of Freedom. Despite all this, despite the sheer number of women who have accused him of sexual assault, despite his own admission he obtained Quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with, there are people who still adamantly believe Cosby is innocent—or who love him despite his sins.
The freshest evidence of his enduring appeal came on New Year's Eve, when Cosby broke his social media silence to thank fans and supporters; the Facebook post received more than 31,000 likes in the ensuing week. Tons of comments rolled in from people all over the planet calling him a "great man" and "one of my favorite comedians of all time."
Even people who enjoy the man's acting and jokes might pause and go, A great man? Really?
"Many fans have a hard time believing that anyone who has as much notoriety or success as a celebrity can actually be human or can have the faults or flaws that the rest of the world has," explains Alan Hilfer, chief of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York. "They put them in an unreal place and have a hard time giving that up because in many ways they're hoping there's an ideal out there."
One of the people defending Bill Cosby to this day is Wilmington, Delaware, native Crystal Lambert, who tells me via Facebook that she's been a fan of the comedian "since Mortimer Ichabod Marker and Jello pudding pops." She hasn't read the deposition and plans to direct prayer to the situation rather than scrutiny. "We as the public have a civic duty to back a man that gave and taught us so much," she says.
It is true that Cosby has been a philanthropic powerhouse over the years, particularly to historically black colleges. Among the donations he's made in the past are a $20 million gift to Spelman College in 1988, and $3 million to the Morehouse School of Medicine. (In July, Spelman ended a professorship named for Cosby and returned money associated with it to a foundation established by his wife, Camille.)
Many of Cosby's fans aren't weighing the good against the bad, however—they don't think the bad was all that bad to begin with.
Jeff Juraska is one of those who defends the comedian steadfastly. The sole caregiver for his almost 93-year-old mother in Central Florida, Juraska says he's read part, but not all of, the deposition. "If we are going back into the 70s, the way I remember it, being just a kid, everyone was doing drugs of various kinds," he tells me over Facebook. "I don't believe [Cosby] admitted to his charges."
Echoing that opinion is a man named Austin Casey living in Honolulu. He concedes that Cosby has made some "questionable decisions," but doesn't think that he's a criminal—despite having read up on the Constand case.
"The issue is determining what constitutes 'rape,'" he says. "I don't think that making a series of questionable decisions leading to you having [an] intoxicated relation with someone and later regretting it or feeling like you were assaulted constitutes as rape. I think a lot of people—both men and women—would be able to lock partners up if this was a valid basis to charge someone with sexual assault."
For those willing to link their Facebook profiles to one of the more reviled men on the planet right now, it seems like what's at play here is either a willing suspension of disbelief or, more perversely, the conviction that having sex with people who cannot consent is—at least when Bill Cosby is involved—somehow fair game.
If nothing else, these fans aren't ready to let their icon go.
"If people are upset and disgusted, I could totally understand that," Casey continues. "But I don't think we should try to tear him down, tear his career down, and tear down everything good that he's stood for for the past 50 years. This poor decision of a married man seducing women to sleep with him shouldn't imply that everything he's stood for and preached is somehow invalid."
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