The Future Weighs in on Bill Cosby and Celebs in Crisis

Let the thought leadership commence.

Bill Cosby just had the kind of week undergraduates taking a PR course in the future will one day sit back and discuss. I can see it now:


The PROFESSOR in a tweed jacket, early 50s, stroking smugly his goatee. He requests his pupils draft a one-page "thought response" to the "Cosby Twitter meme case study." Maybe he refers to a reading assignment he'd given them, a textbook passage citing the seminal piece by Harry-Jacques Pierre, who astutely viewed the scandal as a quintessential crisis communications fiasco.

"Class," he says, sniffing the air. "I'd suggest the Cosby scandal represents more than your average takedown of a beloved public figure. Coupled with the previous summer's #ALSChallenge -- in which normal citizens were compelled to dump ice water on their heads -- 2014 was the true watershed year for viral campaigning and digital communications. So to speak. With the benefit of hindsight, we recognize now that these were the moments when Twitter and social media truly asserted its financial clout. It's fascinating, brilliant stuff."

"But..." says a RAISED HAND, a pretty blonde with perfect complexion. The sort of girl who smiles even when she's sleeping. "Was Cosby guilty?"

The professor chuckles, before sighing. "It didn't matter. By this point, the collective landscape had shifted so much, that the public had been transformed. So to speak. That is to say, they could instinctively sense Cosby's guilt based off the accusations alone. You see, around the beginning of the 21st century, there were certain notions about the way celebrities were viewed in the United States. People were empowered by their Twitter feeds to make instant judgments on just about anything. Much easier that way. Opinions flowed like wine, and it was glorious. It began with the death of something called privacy..."

He pauses, realizing the blank faces in the room.

"Nevermind. Regardless, the proverbial 'court of public opinion' was powerful enough to convict Cosby on allegation alone. On the one hand, maybe he was guilty. On the other, perhaps he was an old man whose lifetime of success vindicated every choice he ever made, thus making his sad, bungled response to the charges the true crime. Maybe both."

"But why didn't the 'public' forgive Mr. Cosby, like they did David Letterman? Why was Bill Clinton revered by the same exact people burning Cosby at the stake?" someone asked. She had a copy of Arthur Miller's The Crucible in her napsack. English 101.

The professor's face turns BRIGHT RED. "It comes down to persona, and the way each public figure responded individually to their particular crises. Letterman went on his show, and begged forgiveness. Clinton, it's an anomaly."

He clears his throat and digs in: "Clinton was the most gifted politician of his generation, who championed a lot of the right causes. Arguably, you could say Cosby did as well -- he was a father figure to millions, and got his doctorate in education by employing his show Fat Albert as a teaching tool. However, the charges were so insidious, and Cosby so incompetent, that -- regardless of any notions concerning 'reasonable doubt' or 'innocent before proven guilty' -- he was immediately cast out. Even his beloved Raven Symone refused to defend him. He lost a Netflix special, a show on NBC, and his classic Cosby Show was pulled from syndication. And that sucked because everyone loved the Cosby Show. So to speak."

He was now sweating profusely.

"It's also important to point out that the news cycle was super boring at this time -- people were tired of Obama and Congress, yet there wasn't anything salacious to dig in on, so they turned to ole Bill. The American people have always had problems reconciling the good things done by their leaders -- whether it be Cosby, MLK or Thomas Jefferson -- with the fact they are also human beings who sometimes do bad shit."

"So..." interjects a CHARMING man in flannel. "Why did Cosby get tarred and feathered, but not other lecherous, power-drunk men?"

"Search your soul, you know why..." said the professor, tapping his nose twice with his pointer finger. The class looks around, puzzled.

The professor's mood grows dark and he looks down menacingly: "First they came for Cliff Huxtable, my friends. You and I are next."

The GIRLS in the class begin weeping. The few random males look around nervously, trying to contain the fear in their pants.

"The beast always needs to be fed."