Frisky Rant: No, The Wrap, Bill Cosby Is Not Being “Raped” By His Accusers’ Allegations
This Saturday, entertainment blog The Wrap posted a stunningly tone-deaf guest op-ed entitled “The Rape of Bill Cosby.” The tongue-in-cheek opening line read “Bill Cosby raped me.” And that was the best part of the entire debacle. The remainder of the piece, which was meant to be an excoriation of liberal media (on a liberal media site no less – gotta love life’s rich pageant), has instead become Exhibit A in the case of The Wrap engendering rape culture, and it is a steaming pile of gross, triggering garbage.
The idiotic article, written by blogger Rich Stellar, went on to strongly suggest that the women – the scores of women who have come forward to accuse Bill Cosby of rape over the last decade as well as just the last week – are opportunistic money-grubbers, filled with “blind ambition” and “one eye on the CNN camera, and the other on a book or reality show deal.” To make matters about a million times worse than being drugged and raped by a beloved American comedy icon and having no one believe you for years, The Wrap’s CEO, Sharon Waxman, and executive editor, Joseph Kapsch, then took to Twitter not just to defend the blog, but to accuse their (many, many, many) Twitter detractors of being a mob, and of bullying The Wrap. Need a second to deal with your rage spiral? Go ahead, I’ll wait.
All right, let’s do this. As a very brief primer, it is important to remember that amid the scores of Bill Cosby rape accusations coming out right now, many of them have been voiced before. These allegations aren’t new, they didn’t go unreported, the women making them just weren’t believed. Tom Scocca over at Gawker broke this down in February of this year, far before anyone was talking about Bill Cosby and rape again. Then comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby a rapist in a late-October standup set, which prompted one of Cosby’s victims, Barbara Bowman, to write her story again for The Washington Post. And since then, more and more women have been coming forward, and speaking out against the sexual abuse they’ve faced at the hands of Cosby, with their own stories of why they were forced to keep it quiet.
Stellar’s blog on The Wrap ignored all the nuance of why these women kept quiet (of which the documented reasons are many: DAs who knew they couldn’t make a case, lawyers and agents who wouldn’t believe the accusers, women who weren’t able to tell their story despite agreeing to be witnesses in a 2004 case against Cosby, when the victim settled, just to name a few). Instead, Stellar, a man who seemingly has never been raped, decided to accuse the women of being more interested in fame and fortune.
In one particularly insidious paragraph, Stellar says this (emphasis mine):
The concept of justice is disregarded. The statute of limitations is ignored. The recollections of events that happened as long as fifty years ago are dredged up by aging actresses who have one eye on the CNN camera, and the other on a book or reality show deal. If the statute of limitations was as long as the fifteen minutes of fame that these lost souls are trying to recapture, then our prisons would be as vacant as the Holiday Inn in Acapulco (you probably have no idea what that means because you’re not used to real news). Thankfully, the statute of limitations was written to avoid exactly what this blog is about. There is no legitimacy to justice if there is no real evidence, and evidence has a way of vanishing as memories dim with the marching of time. A DNA swab on most of Cosby’s detractors if done today would most likely come up exceedingly dry.
Oh, word? Let’s talk about rape culture, Richard not-so-Stellar. Many of these women did come forward, repeatedly and often, and were told they didn’t have a leg to stand on. As Barbara Bowman, who was a teenager when Cosby raped her, put it to The Washington Post, “But I first told my agent, who did nothing … A girlfriend took me to a lawyer, but he accused me of making the story up. Their dismissive responses crushed any hope I had of getting help; I was convinced no one would listen to me.” Sixty percent of rapes go unreported, and with only three percent of rapists ever being jailed for their actions. Add in the fact that these women were coming for the undisputed king of family comedy, and it makes fairly clear sense why those that kept quiet until now didn’t want to come forward – who would believe them?
Since Stellar chose to cloak himself in a shroud of “I was just excoriating the media, and not the victims!” you’d think that his piece would have at some point – any point! – actually taken the media to task. Instead, in six short paragraphs, only two even briefly discussed the media, and one did so in a way that made no sense from a purely grammatical and reading comprehension standpoint.
I have read and reread the line in which he claims “The issue is the scurrilous environment where media outlets and journalists lie in wait, like aging corpulent prostitutes, their hair dyed flame red and their nails like elongated daggers — waiting to blow any John who dares to topple those who may be kings,” and I still do not understand the metaphor, but then again, anyone who chooses to liken rape victims to purchasers of sex workers probably doesn’t totally understand the metaphor either. He then goes on for three longer paragraphs of victim shaming, and ends his article on the line “His detractors and accusers smack of something else than truth — they carry the faint aroma of deceit, selective memory, and blind ambition.” Huh. For someone that was writing about the media, it’s pretty interesting to end on a kicker about the Cosby accusers.
But it’s not just Stellar who’s wrong in this whole mess – The Wrap is far, far, far worse. Waxman, CEO of the site, constantly kept defending the post using “free speech” as her rallying cry on Twitter over the weekend. Sure, there’s free speech, and then there’s condoning reprehensible rape behavior, solely in the name of page views – which, let’s be perfectly clear, is exactly what Waxman was doing. For all my issues with Waxman, The Wrap, and their interesting style of reporting, I will say that she and Kapsch are generally fairly intelligent people, who have turned The Wrap, once a site that most industry insiders didn’t even know existed, into a regularly visited destination for Hollywood trade news. Given their collective intelligence, I choose to believe that she and Kapsch knew when running this that the opinions at hand were bombastic, even for an op-ed aiming to shock, and they were fine with it. A hate-read is still a read, after all, and with the end of the year fast approaching, digital publications are under crunch time to get their viewership numbers up for those lucrative advertising deals they’ll need to renew for quarter one.
While Waxman can defend her choices as an editor on Twitter, and in a tone-deaf editor’s note that assumes absolutely no responsibility and instead should have been accompanied by the sound of a thousand tiny violins, all she wants, this was a very, very bad choice. A piece about how the media was suddenly quick to jump all over the Cosby allegations, after having ignored them for years, would have been provocative in a great way. A piece about how the only thing the media seems to love these days is toppling their kings, and comparing it to how we build them up in contrast, would have been provocative in a great way. A piece about how difficult it is to write about Cosby and separate the myth of Bill Cosby from the lore of Cliff Huxtable when weighing the allegations would have been provocative in a great way. A million different angles on the same take would have been provocative in a great way, and Waxman, a former New York Times correspondent instead allowed the site she runs, and has her name all over, instead choose the one angle that was really, truly not the way to go: shaming the victims.
I will no longer be reading The Wrap, but not because I want to muzzle Waxman on what she can and cannot publish on her own site. I will not be reading The Wrap, because she’s now willingly promoting a culture that constantly muzzles sexual abuse survivors, and that’s something I can’t stand for.