A SERIES OF EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS

This is important enough to preempt NPF, although I'll try to post something more Fun as well before Monday.

So remember a few months ago when a number of women like Beverly Johnson went public with stories bearing titles like "Bill Cosby Drugged Me"? Remember how they were all called opportunists, publicity hounds, victimhood addicts, skanks, and bandwagon jumping liars? It's important to remember those things now that Cosby admitted under oath to obtaining sedatives to give to women he wanted to have sex with (although it's not entirely clear to me whether he admitted to giving anyone the drugs or merely to obtaining them – I suspect that distinction will be important in court). Turns out "Bill Cosby Drugged Me" is not so far-fetched an idea after all.

This whole ordeal provides an excellent example of how people use motivated reasoning and tortured logic when they don't want to give up on someone who appears to have done some terrible things – friends, relatives, beloved public figures, or ideological allies in the Culture Wars. There is no other explanation, once we account for the gender biases inherent in public discourse on sex crimes, for staying in Cosby's corner for this long. I see these situations as a matter of probability, logically speaking. We have two options of what to believe. One is that Bill Cosby does or did in fact give women drugs without their consent. The other is that a large number of women with no apparent connection to one another engaging in a coordinated conspiracy to ruin Bill Cosby by coming forward nearly simultaneously to tell remarkably similar stories about their alleged encounters with him. Which of those two seems more likely?

Are there accusers who are piling on Cosby in the hopes of getting attention or money? Maybe. Probably not, since there is are high non-monetary costs to coming forward. It's possible, but even if it happens the core of the accusations against Cosby were so remarkably similar that rejecting them out of hand would be like betting on 00 in roulette versus betting on Even or Odd. Both are gambles, since people like us never have all of the facts and it's possible that what we believe (in either direction) could turn out to be wrong. But they're not equally likely to be wrong.

This is one of those things a lot of people could learn from; while accusations cannot automatically be presumed factual, it makes even less sense to presume them false. Of course we will learn nothing, though, and go through this all over again next time. As long as we refuse to update the way we think, there will always be a next time.

Be Sociable, Share!

31 Responses to “A SERIES OF EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS”

  1. Aaron Says:

    The last paragraph is a little out of tune, Ed, but I think it's out of tune in a way that invites another important distinction.

    The platitude 'innocent until proven guilty' is often invoked in cases like these as a principled-sounding way of denying that one might be wrong. There's the Cosby case, obviously, but you hear the same things about campus sexual assault and the culture of athletic entitlement. What better way of forestalling the admission that someone you've admired (after a fashion) in the past is actually pretty morally hideous? You appeal to a principled middle ground, and then continue to decide all 'problem cases' in your own favor.

    I think Ed has pointed to one problem with this stance: there was plenty of evidence against your position in the first place. But another is that while 'innocent until proven guilty' is an important legal standard, no one endorses it as a way of forming beliefs in the real world. A friend tells you a beer tastes bad; good enough evidence against ordering it. You read newspapers during 9/11, and you believe the WTC was attacked by terrorists. Almost no one forestalls judgement on much of anything until it's 'proven'; or, our standards of 'proof' for most of our beliefs is much lower than it is in a courtroom. This is as it should be. Appealing to a standard, then, that's designed to be used in legal contexts as a reason to hold on to a belief that you (1) never formed with the same standard, and (2) would normally change in other contexts, is pretty good evidence that you're appealing to that standard disingenuously. Such was the case with a ton of the Cosby coverage. And not just after the 'revelations' became hugely public.

  2. Aaron Says:

    Also, glad to hear you're moving to Chicago! I'll be at the next Green Street Smoked Meat-up.

    Also, some unsolicited housing advice: as long as you're committed to the long commute already, don't try to save 30-45 minutes by moving to the Western Suburbs. Unless gaining an extra 1000 square feet matters that much to you. The only difference between Wheaton and Peoria is the Metra lifeline into the city.

  3. Marilynd..so Says:

    Yeah, I just don't want to believe, as a 70-y-old white woman, who first saw his genus at the Hungry Eye in SF and his "god" routine…don't want to, but I probably have to. What curdles me on the women, is their hooking up with the ultimate lawyer/grifter, Gloria Allred. When she comes on the scene, my vampire cross comes out…get away!! get away!!

  4. Katydid Says:

    When so many nearly-identical accusations came out from so many unrelated women, I took the reluctant stance that where there's smoke, there's likely fire. It grieved me because Bill Cosby was a big part of my childhood–his work in The Electric Company and Fat Albert form some of my earliest childhood memories, and his record albums and one-man show on HBO in the 1980s kept me laughing for years (I was out of the house by the time The Cosby Show aired on tv, and I couldn't afford tv for many years, so I missed out on that phenomenon, but I knew it was A Thing).

    Here's how I looked at it; what makes Bill Cosby any different from a gajillion sports stars and the infamous Casting Couch? He had the means and opportunity, the star-struck young women fans who were thrilled to be invited to bask in his presence, and the people to cover up his crimes for him. We haven't come such a long way, baby, since the 1970s; women are assaulted all the time.

    While I held out hope that he might be innocent, the huge preponderance of evidence led me to not be shocked when he admitted that he got drugs and planned to (if not actually did) give them to women.

  5. waspuppet Says:

    Well, you know, we had to make sure that these accusers weren't adding their names to the long list of women who have rocketed to fame and fortune through false rape allegations. For example, there was – um, well, what about – wait a minute; I'll think of one …

  6. peon Says:

    Unfortunately it is always easy to blame the "bitches" who try and ruin good men with their lying ways. This reveals the ugly underbelly of women hating. Left leaning people have not trouble recognizing the racism inherent in the police reaction to a black man driving/walking etc. Many on the left struggle when it comes to sexism.

  7. John Danley Says:

    "Daddy says it's time wake up!" — William Henry Cosby Jr.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    Cosby let a lot of fans down by drugging women and then going down!

    What an… for lack of a better word, ASSHOLE!!!!

    The guy was/is a comedy genius!
    Why does a guy with all of his fame and fortune need to drug women in order to have sex?

    Oh yeah…
    Power.
    And too mucho on da macho!

    He could have left this world one of the most beloved people in history.'

    But no!
    It wasn't "Fat Albert" that brought him down – it was his "Throbbing Dick!"

    WHAT AN ASSHOLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Dave Dell Says:

    Brings to mind Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas.

  10. quixote Says:

    Many on the left (and everywhere else) can't face their own sexism because that means a real change in behavior in their own lives, every day. Racism and all the other bigotries? Not so much. Wave the flag and feel good about yourself.

    Women's full human status, including little things like being believed about major crimes, is always going to be last in line and unimportant and impossible to deal with until every single other problem in the world has been solved. Because it's the biggest test on whether bigoted minds have changed.

  11. Tim H. Says:

    Doesn't sound right somehow, Bill Cosby had money, fame, likely not a bad body and he felt drugging women was necessary to get laid.

  12. Nick Says:

    Tim, that's because rape isn't about "getting laid." If it were, rapists would just go to hookers instead, there's a lot less potential downside if you're caught. Rape is about exercising control over someone else. The part Cosby wanted wasn't sexual access to a woman; it was the ability to make a woman do whatever he wantwd, whether she liked ot or not.

  13. negative 1 Says:

    @Aaron — maybe, but I'd argue that unless a person admits it they deserve their day in court before fully forming those opinions. The reason is due to the same effect that allows Fox News to slander by accusation: people are dumb, have short attention spans, and generally only hear one headline before assigning it as fact and losing track of the story entirely. This is especially true in salacious stories like sexual assault that involves a celebrity.

    The other side of that coin, though, is something like the Clinton Foundation 'story' that Hillary had to endure. Fox presented it as an accusation, but their audience didn't hear that, and by the time the Clintons proved (yes proved) the flaws in that story people had stopped listening. So now she's 'corrupt' and 'trading off of her husband's name'.

    The reason I think it's especially important in celebrity cases to keep an open mind is that both sides have an incentive to lie; Ed I understand there are costs to coming forward but in many cases there are serious financial incentives to do so as well. I'm not defending every rapist by saying so, but it is a fact. So unless someone is one of the rare few who follows the case and comes to a conclusion based on the evidence rather than just deciding which party fits their prescribed belief system I believe that innocent until proven guilty is a pretty good moral imperative. After all, when someone asks if you think so-and-so really did it it's OK to answer 'I don't know' or 'I don't care'.

  14. Skepticalist Says:

    It was very hard to accept until so many women came forward. It went away for a week (at least on the cable TV I saw) but once it returned, I had to accept it.

    One sad part for me is that although I wasn't much of viewer, his sitcom was one of the few that depicted adults smarter than the kids. That was healthy and sadly very rare.

    Yuck.

  15. mothra Says:

    Well, count me as one of those who didn't hop on either train: neither was Cosby fully guilty nor was he fully innocent until I heard more evidence. Now I have heard more and it doesn't look so good for Mr. Cosby. I withhold judgment in situations like this because I have worked as a paralegal in a criminal defense firm.

  16. Emerson Dameron Says:

    Idealogues have a frustrating habit of choosing the steepest possible hill to die on.

    http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/17/the-toxoplasma-of-rage/

    There is a real revulsion that comes from imagining the American justice system effectively replaced with internet comments. And believing someone guilty of arguably the worst allegation there is is different from not flying Spirit because Liz in HR advised against it.

    But, look. The Cos is not an 'edge case.' Despite immense wealth and public trust, he continues to bury himself. Every day, he appears to any discerning person more and more like Jimmy Savile. At this point, I wonder how he had time for anything besides raping people.

  17. Timurid Says:

    I'm just wondering when the first bodies will turn up.
    He may have raped dozens, if not hundreds, of women and did so using powerful sedatives while alcohol and various other recreational drugs were in play. At some point he (and that night's victim) would have gotten unlucky…

  18. Emerson Dameron Says:

    @Marilynd:

    Normally, if Gloria Allred and Janice Dickinson took a strong position that the sky was blue, I would wonder if it might be orange, or perhaps argue that, in fact, it only *appears* blue.

    Hollywood scandals involve Hollywood creatures. As a group, they are not particularly sympathetic victims.

    This time? There's just no way to side with Cosby aside from crippling cognitive dissonance.

  19. Alan C Says:

    It saddens me if these accusations are true because I've been a fan of Cosby's comedy ever since I was a kid, from his early standup through Fat Albert to the Cosby Show. But it won't surprise me much because I've heard plenty of stories about his being pretty much an a**h*** in real life.

  20. Gino H Says:

    Don't respect Allred much, at least her "skills" as a lawyer. However, it doesn't fly to use her presence to leverage credibility away from the accusers. In this case I don't see a problem with it. These women, many of whom are quite anonymous in popular culture terms, were desperate to be believed. Someone in that situation, facing the Leviathan that is/was good will toward Cosby, are going to be open the most visible means possible to air their complaints. I've never been raped, molested, or otherwise had my dignity and personhood assaulted to its core. I can't make the call against someone who has and who was forced, in some cases for decades, to just eat their pain and grief and watch Cosby continue to nourish himself on the love, respect, and warmth people had for him. Maybe if I'm backed into a corner like that and there's a chance my grief can be lanced, then eased, maybe the blandishments of Gloria Allred do not look so bad. Pick another criterion if you want to disbelieve the accusers.

  21. Major Kong Says:

    I've been a fan of his for as long as I can remember, and I can remember a long time.

    Just goes to show that you think you know somebody……

  22. S M McBean Says:

    I'm surprised no one else linked this:

  23. democommie Says:

    I've disliked Cosby for a long time, starting with his portrayal as the hipster spy tennis pro on that idiotic program, "I Spy"*.

    When his role as Cliff Huxtable developed into a terminal case of Ronaldreaganitis and had his thinking that he IS a doctor who knows how to fix Blackmerica.

    Fuck him, I hope he loses everything he's ever gotten as soon as ONE of his accusers is vindicated.

    * As believable as "Mission Impossible", "Wild,Wild West" and other crapola programming of the day.

  24. Sort of anonymous Says:

    Admittedly, I haven't kept up on the Cosby Saga. And, to be honest, I still am not certain what went down. The following things biased or confused me:

    1) Cosby was legendary in recent years for giving morality lectures. This *shouldn't* preclude me from thinking he's a low-life, but it does.

    2) It's not clear from the recently-revealed depo whether Cosby gave the Quaaludes to women without their knowledge, or *complicit* with them. That is, he got them to give to women he wanted to have sex with. It doesn't say that he got them to drug women who wouldn't otherwise have sex with him. There is a motivational difference between being a guy who trades drugs for sex, and being a guy who uses drugs to facilitate assault.

    3) The similar stories? That was not convincing. In fact, superficial similarity seems at risk for copycats. The really persuasive story was the different one: Carla Ferrigno. That sounded quite credible, and also explained some of Bill Cosby's wife's reticence in interviews. Once I heard this story, my gut told me Bill Cosby had likely done some of the things he was accused of. But I still don't know.

    I think the big deal is to have a system for gathering, presenting, and weighing evidence. If the statue of limitations is too late for this to be criminal, we should still have a similar presentation within the court of public opinion, rather than the glossy news coverage we had now, which either does a disservice to the accusers or to the accused.

    [And, personally—and the reason for my hidden nick—I was very convinced by Cosby's stage persona.

    Similarly, and chronologically coincident with this, something happened in my personal life. A family member (now a former family member, due to divorce) was accused of sexual assault….first by one woman. Then by another. Eventually, five or six women came forward, all except one with similar stories. And at the time, I was conflicted, because:

    – I was none too happy with the accused, given that he emotionally hurt one of the people I love…which is why he's no longer family

    – The story told by the original accuser seems, well, loony. I understand "not fighting back". But I don't understand hanging out and having deep philosophical discussions, poolside, afterward, and snacking…rather than walking home a short way.

    – While I'm no fan of the accused, I've known him for about twenty years. And I think I know him pretty well. And I, to this moment, can not picture him assaulting anyone, anywhere, any time, in any way. It's not in his personality. I can picture him persuading people to do things they'd later regret. But not doing things against someone's will.

    The kicker here is that he was convicted on all counts.

    Using the very system I think we *need* to have…a real court system.

    So, clearly, even when *knowing* the accused, better than we know Bill Cosby, our own judgment about people's character is not as good as we think. (Alternatively, he was falsely convicted, I suppose.)]

  25. J. Dryden Says:

    Roundabout narrative ahead.

    My mother–a professional librarian–was hired, back in the '80s (think JUST pre-Cosby Show) by none other than Charlton Heston to come to his home and organize all his personal papers, correspondence, etc.–which was a massive undertaking, as he was a major writer of letters, journals, notes, etc.

    My mother, it should be noted, is a FLAMING liberal. Totally opposed in every way to Heston's professed political leanings. We all anticipated that the job–which required her to work closely with the man–would come to a speedy end.

    It did not. Quite the contrary. She came home that first night and told us that he was, quite simply, the most gracious, charming, considerate and kindly man she'd ever met. Her work with him, which took place over several months, was a constant source of pleasure–he was an absolute gentleman and a dream client. (To this day, I cannot watch the "From my cold dead hand" soundbite without trying to find some way to make it OK–I always fail–and I have never respected Michael Moore after the "Whoops I Didn't Know He Had Dementia" interview in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE.)

    I mention all of this to establish that, in his own very very Republican way, Heston was a good guy. Genial, well-meaning, and very much someone who Got Along With People. He was also very, very social–Hollywood was still a relatively small community for the A-listers, who all really did know each other and saw each other regularly.

    OK, the point of the story:

    My mother was working at Heston's home one afternoon, and, as she tells it, gave a little shriek when she heard the front door slam LOUDLY. She pokes her head out of Heston's study, to see the man himself ditching his tennis equipment in the front closet. He is SEETHING.

    Before she can duck back in, he sees her, and is immediately contrite. He apologizes, and says he didn't see her car–he thought he was alone, and wouldn't have been so expressive if he'd known she was there.

    She doesn't ask him, but he tells her by way of this apology:

    "I just played tennis with Cosby."

    At her expression, he laughs–"Oh, of course–you don't know." He then explains. A lot of celebrities belong to the same tennis club in Beverly Hills. A lot of them play together. Heston was, he explains, one of the ONLY ones who would still play with Cosby. ("And as of today, I'm off that very short list.") Because, you see, Cosby is a TOTAL SHIT of a player. Petty, short-tempered, viciously competitive, and the loss of any point is NEVER EVER EVER his fault–he will ALWAYS go out of his way to find SOMEONE ELSE TO BLAME, and then do so, loudly and at length.

    "I'm never playing tennis with Cosby again," said Heston. "Life's too short."

    Anyway, I tell this story to say that, much as one can glean a person's character from how s/he treats waiters, I would argue that one can do much the same from how s/he plays tennis. (Or golf, or what-have-you, you know what I mean.)

    Heston–for all of his, yes, Cro-Magnon politics, which may cause you to disregard this story–was a gentleman, and not one to lose his temper over a game–and his story has informed my view of Cosby throughout. The "I'm Right, You're Wrong" tone of his public persona–best expressed in his Shame Lectures of the past 20 years–it always resonated with me not as the Twainian voice of the Grizzled Old Timer Who's Seen Enough To Know What's What–but just the self-excusing asshole screaming at his doubles partner for his own fault.

    I am, I suppose, reading too much into this. But when the news first broke about Cosby, my first thought was "I bet Heston wouldn't have been shocked in the least."

  26. democommie Says:

    "But I don't understand hanging out and having deep philosophical discussions, poolside, afterward, and snacking…rather than walking home a short way."

    You're not a woman.

    Unlike a fair %age of people who seem to have been gobsmacked by the original allegations I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that he had KILLED some of them.

    The man is a dick, undeniable talent, notwithstanding

    And, really, though Cosby did some great work, he also just mailed a lot of shit in
    .

  27. Bitter Scribe Says:

    I loved Cosby's comedy as a kid, but I always hated that stupid TV show of his ("Racism? Huh? What's that?"). I really started to dislike him when I read an interview, given at the height of the show's popularity, where he basically said, Yeah, I could do a show about what life is really like for blacks, but no one (meaning no white people) would watch it.

    By the time he got into his pull-your-damn-pants-up phase, I was thoroughly disgusted with him. The rape allegations pushed that into loathing.

  28. Robert Says:

    The part that truly frizzles my wig is the chorus (dampened lately) of earnest people insisting, "The Man doesn't like successful powerful Black men – this is a conspiracy to bring him down!"
    Does it not occur to these people that Cosby is EXACTLY the kind of Black man that "the Man" values and supports? As previously mentioned, he has been slagging the Black underclass as creators of their own problems longer than my kids have been alive.

  29. Anon Says:

    @J Dryden: thank you very much for sharing that.

    When I was a kid, Fat Albert was on TV. I thought it seemed kind of cool, but it was a little too grim for me to really get into.

    Then, when I was in high school, I used to buy old vinyl comedy albums. I really loved Cosby's _Why Is There Air?_, etc. He was very charismatic- a self-deprecating persona, always talking about his misadventures.

    Then when _Fatherhood_ came out, I started to dislike him. "The Cosby Show" reinforced that feeling. In retrospect, I think it's because he seemed like an extreme version of something you see a lot of in the evangelical culture I grew up in: the grown-up who pretends to be your easygoing buddy, but is at the same time an undisguised control freak who openly tells you you're shit unless you do what he says. With _Fatherhood_ his persona went from hapless Joe to asshole authority figure.

    That's why your comment about the "Twainian, Grizzled Old-Timer" struck me. In my high school, every preacher they brought in was trying to adopt a Twainian old-timer persona. Every single one of them wanted to simultaneously be the easygoing old codger who's been around the block, AND tell us we're shit if we don't let them run our lives.

    It really struck me when Cosby fired Lisa Bonet for appearing in _Angel Heart._ You can't be easygoing *and* demand that everyone conform to your fucked-up sexual weirdness OR ELSE. In retrospect, I wonder if he really fired Bonet because _Angel Heart_ gave him the hots for her, and she resisted his advances.

  30. Links 7/13/15 | Mike the Mad Biologist Says:

    […] book taught the most insane things about slavery Bringing Broken-Windows Policing to Wall Street A SERIES OF EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS Donald Trump Belongs on the Stage (No, REALLY) A 40 Hour Work Week In The United States Actually […]

  31. click the next internet site Says:

    click the next internet site

    A SERIES OF EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS | Gin and Tacos