On Sunday night, the world's most awkward episode of The Celebrity Apprentice aired on NBC. During the episode, Keshia Knight Pulliam was fired for refusing to call Bill Cosby — a move that sounds more logical now than it was at the time the show was actually filmed. You see, Pulliam was meant to call her former Cosby Show co-star for money that would go to charity, and her failure to do so showed that she was not willing to utilize her connections in a way that business savvy individuals had to do in order to get ahead. However, between the filming of the show and the airing of the show, Cosby has been accused by over 20 women of sexual assault (or, rather, these accusations have been getting heavy media and public attention for the first time). On the TODAY Show on Monday, Pulliam distanced herself from the Cosby controversy, but the way she did so was really problematic.
"You can’t take away from the great that he has done," Pulliam said to Savannah Guthrie during her interview. "That’s just not the man I know, so I can’t speak to it." While I understand where Pulliam is coming from with her comments, I can't ignore the fact that half of what she said is just, well, wrong. It's a great relief to know that the awkward timing of the Celebrity Apprentice episode and challenge was coincidental, and that Pulliam was not among the alleged victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Cosby, but it sounds absurd to me for her to say that this controversy doesn't take away from what Cosby has achieved. His legacy is tarnished, not only by these claims but by the way he has chosen to handle these claims.
Cosby's controversy is similar to that of Stephen Collins, beloved 7th Heaven actor who was revealed to have molested at least three children. When the audio recording of Collins' confession hit the media, not only was 7th Heaven pulled from syndication but the actor's legacy and reputation was marred. Even now that Collins has admitted to the child molestation, apologized, and is seeking to rebuild his tattered public image, it's still a hard pill for people to swallow. The same is true of Cosby, whose situation only continues to get worse — especially when his main lines of defense are either a stony silence or to complain about the media's handling of the situation.
Even in the cases of controversial celebrities like Chris Brown and Woody Allen, who are both award-winning figures in their respective fields, you can find as many people who hate them and refuse to listen to or watch anything they produce as you can find people who ignore the scandals in their personal lives in order to judge them on their professional merits. So, yes, Cosby has done a lot of great things, but if even a single one of the allegations are true then he has done those great things under what feels like false pretenses. He has done great things, and built a great public image, that was undeserved considering the crimes that he has allegedly perpetrated against these many, many, many young women behind the scenes. And the fact that he has gotten away with these crimes until now, and will not face any punishment for them even if he is somehow brought to court, is one of the many things that the public finds intolerable about the situation.
I don't blame Pulliam for being unable to comment on these rumors since they paint a picture of a very different man than the one she knew. That's fair enough. But for her to say that these rumors don't take away from the good things that Cosby has done in the past is a very different thing, because it undermines the victims whose claims have gone unheard. It's especially painful since many of the victims remained silent about their stories because the image of Cosby as a great man and beloved TV father was so pervasive that they thought no one would believe them even if they did say something. It's not just that this controversy has taken away from the great that Cosby has done — it's that, if true, then it should take away from the great that Cosby has done.
As for Cosby, his official statement on the controversy via his lawyer remains the same: "Over the last several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true. Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment. He would like to thank all his fans for the outpouring of support and assure them that, at age 77, he is doing his best work. There will be no further statement from Mr. Cosby or any of his representatives."
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