[Reporters] Nicole, good evening. The first of four days of pre-trial motion hearings.
The prosecution wants to call about a dozen women at trial.
They also allege Cosby drugged and assaulted them.
They will say that Bill Cosby has used his fame and fortune to, quote, “cover up his crimes”.
Bill Cosby, one of the greatest American entertainers of the last 50 years, is due to stand trial accused of sexual assault.
[Bill Cosby, The Cosby Show] Come here, I want to take a picture.
Cosby is an American icon, a brilliant comedian, who broke down racial barriers on American television…
[Bill Cosby, The Cosby Show] Now, all of you, get out!
..and with The Cosby Show, a sitcom about a black middle-class family, created one of the most successful TV shows of all time.
[Bill Cosby, The Cosby Show] Yes!
He was a great role model. A great father, a great husband. A great entertainer.
[James Poniewozik, Chief TV Critic, New York Times] He was revered, even.
[Joseph C. Phillips, Actor, The Cosby Show] People loved him. He was America’s dad.
[Lynn Norment, Former Editor, Ebony Magazine] Cosby was God.
Cosby is standing trial for a single case of sexual assault, but dozens of other women have claimed he attacked them, too. His alleged victims say he is a serial rapist, who hid behind a brilliant public persona.
[Lili Bernard, Actor, The Cosby Show] What happened to me, he drugged me, raped me, and then he threatened serious consequences to my life.
For half a century, Bill Cosby’s reputation has remained untarnished. Until now.
[Robert Huber, Philadelphia Magazine] It’s misogyny, it’s power, it’s the great wealth machine of a Hollywood that keeps people silent.
Fall od an American Icon
This is Hollywood, the most famous, most glamorous place in the world. It’s a place of dreams, hopes and riches. Let’s go to Hollywood backstage, and see this unique and fascinating place called Hollywood.
[Victoria Valentino, Former Playboy Bunny] All of these comedians used to play the Playboy Club circuit, so all of us Bunnies kind of knew them as buddies. They were sort of the casual… We all would go after work and eat breakfast or something, you know, on the Strip. And so my girlfriend said, “Hey, I know Bill Cosby. “I can hook you up, and maybe you can get an audition.”
Aspiring actor Victoria Valentino was 25 when her friend introduced her to Bill Cosby, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
[Victoria Valentino] She called him, and then he sent a car over to my grandmother’s house in West Hollywood to pick us up. And so we went to dinner at this steak restaurant on the Strip called Sneaky Pete’s. It was next to the Whiskey a Go Go. And pretty soon he put a pill down next to my glass, and he said, “Here, take this, “it will make you feel better.” And I went, “Oh, yeah, great, you know, I’ll take it. “I’ll feel better.” And I took it. Pretty soon I was feeling nauseated, I was getting spinners, and I was feeling like I couldn’t keep my head out of my plate. And I wanted to go home. So… He said, “OK, take you home.”
Instead of turning right to go down onto the Strip, he went uphill. And suddenly we’re winding around and I’m in the back seat, doing everything I can not to throw up in the “big star’s” car and humiliate us all, and ruin any possible chances of us ever getting an acting part on his show. And then, all of a sudden, the car stopped. And everything got very silent. And I opened my eyes, and we’re in front of some… it was like a townhouse. There were two loveseats. And my girlfriend, here she is, passed out, lying there, completely gone. And he’s sitting right next to her on the love seat, and he’s looking down at her like this. And the intensity of the look… I mean, it…it… it communicated everything. I knew what he had on his mind. I knew.
He got up, and he came over to me, and then the next thing I knew, I was on my knees, and he was sitting on the love seat opening his fly. And I was orally raped, and then he stood me up and turned me over backwards, and did me doggy style. And then he walked out. And as he was getting to the door, I said, “How are we going to get home?” And he didn’t even look at me. He just said, “Call a cab.” And he slammed out the door.
Victoria chose not to report what she alleges happened to her that night… a silence that lasted decades.
[Victoria Valentino] This was 1969. You know. I was a Playmate. I had been married to a black man. I was an old hippie. You know. I was a Bunny. The last people we would ever have thought to go to would be the police. It never crossed my mind.
Bill Cosby first exploded onto the comedy scene in the early 1960s with appearances on shows such as The Jack Paar Program.
[Clip from The Jack Paar Program]
Wait a minute!
– Are you crazy?
[James Poniewozik] Raised in the poor suburbs of Philadelphia, the son of a maid and an alcoholic father, Cosby was one of the first black comedians to appeal to mainstream white America.
# I put a spell on you… #
[James Poniewozik] He was simply a great, engaging storyteller on the stage, technically brilliant as a comedian, somebody who didn’t simply stand up and tell jokes, but really spun stories.
# You know I can’t stand it #
# You’re running around… #
[James Poniewozik] Coming up at a time when America was going through the civil rights movement, when there was a lot of conflict around race, it was a big deal for, you know, a broad, multiracial audience to establish this bond with Bill Cosby.
Cosby’s big acting break came in 1965, when, aged 28, he was asked to star in a new TV show, I Spy. Playing a tennis coach who was also an undercover spy, Cosby became the first African-American actor to star in a mainstream network drama.
[Joseph C. Phillips] You will hear black people talk about back in the day, when they would call everyone to the television if someone black came on. And a lot of people go, “Oh, you’re just exaggerating.” No. It’s not an exaggeration. That’s how it was in my household. Everybody I knew.
[Clip from I Spy]
Hello, sir. Now!
[Lynn Norment] I was a little kid, really, growing up in Tennessee. It was so wonderful to see an African-American on television on a regular basis, and in a show like that.
[Clip from I Spy]
– Watch this now.
– What’s that for?
– I’ve got an idea.
[Joseph C. Phillips] There was no other black, cool secret agents running around. Where? Bill was smooth, he was good-looking, you know, strapping. He was something that, I think, a lot of young black men aspired to. And I know, for my generation who came into the business, these were the people we looked up to. These were the people that opened the doors for us. Kicked them open, really.
I Spy earned Cosby three consecutive Emmys for outstanding lead actor. The TV shows were followed in the 1970s by leading parts in hit Hollywood movies such as California Suite, in which he starred with Richard Pryor.
[Jennifer Lee Pryor] Well, I knew him through my husband, Richard Pryor. And Richard had mad respect for him. Basically, he idolised Bill. He had made it, and a black man making it in America is a big deal, and certainly in the comedic world. There you have it. I mean, how many black comics were there at the time? He had really arrived. I mean, film, television, concerts, my God, you didn’t get bigger than Bill. He was everywhere.
In his 1983 concert film, Himself, Cosby’s ability to enthral audiences with his storytelling cemented his status as the king of stand-up.
[Clip from Bill Cosby: Himself]
See, when you’re a father, you censor yourself.
You say, “What the…
“I’ll put a…
“Get out of my face!”
The following year, the now 47-year-old Cosby created the show which would challenge attitudes to race in America and turn him into a national icon. From its opening titles, The Cosby Show depicted a middle-class black family. It became one of the biggest television hits of all time.
[Joseph C. Phillips] There was nothing else on television like The Cosby Show, at the time. I was a guest during the second season, and I believe that the show I was on pulled a 51 share. Half, over half of the television sets that were turned on at that time in America were turned on watching The Cosby Show. No show is going to pull those kind of numbers ever again.
[Clip from The Cosby Show]
– Hey, dear.
– Hi, Daddy.
Listen, let’s put on some music round here.
Cosby played an obstetrician, Cliff Huxtable, married to a successful lawyer, Clair, played by Phylicia Rashad.
[Lynn Norment] The show was based on his family. Not only did he have five kids on the show, in real life he and Camille Cosby had five children.
[Clip from The Cosby Show]
Hurry up, I want to take a picture.
– All you people look so good.
– How do I look?
[Lynn Norment] Family was number one to Bill Cosby. And, of course, that is why he created The Cosby Show.
[Clip from The Cosby Show]
All right, now this is something I will cherish the rest of my life.
Now, all of you, get out.
[James Poniewozik] In many ways, Cliff Huxtable was a surrogate Bill Cosby.
[Clip from The Cosby Show]
[James Poniewozik] He had Bill Cosby’s sense of humour. He had his mannerisms, he had his way of talking.
[Clip from The Cosby Show]
I am your father.
I brought you in this world, and I’ll take you out!
[Robert Huber] Cliff Huxtable and Bill Cosby, in the minds of many of us, and for me, were pretty much one and the same. How can you play that guy so convincingly, and so well, and be so sweet and be so wonderful, and not be that guy? You are that guy.
[Clip from The Cosby Show]
The Cosby Show‘s portrayal of three generations of a stable and loving black family was unique in ’80s America.
[Clip from The Cosby Show]
– I had a little trouble finding the place.
[Lili Bernard] It was challenging that notion of blackness with wrongness, because the media has perpetuated a negative image of the black person. And when we see them in the media, it’s a person on the ground, face down, handcuffed.
MUSIC: (Night Time Is) The Right Time by Ray Charles
[Lili Bernard] The Cosby Show was a vehicle by which, now, America could see what a black family really is like.
[James Poniewozik] People didn’t just like The Cosby Show, they liked liking The Cosby Show, right? Like, it was recognised as a social good…that people of all stripes and backgrounds and colours could identify with this family and have this family be their favourite family on television.
[Rebecca Traister, New York Magazine] It offered white viewers a chance to feel good about things that they don’t often get to feel good about. Part of the message and the balm that it offered to white America was that racial tension was a thing of the past. We are all alike here, there’s no racial difference, and there is no lingering racial resentment. We’ve come to some televised version of a promised land.
For five of its eight seasons, The Cosby Show was the top-rated show on American television. It turned Cosby into one of Hollywood’s wealthiest and most powerful stars.
[Lynn Norment] It made us feel proud that this successful show was created by an African-American… owned by an African-American, who produced it as well as starred on it. To have someone who had all of this power, all of this money and fame, was very significant. Very, very powerful.
[Jennifer Lee Pryor] There are layers of celebrity. There’s celebrity, you know, you’re in a few movies. And you’re kind of a celebrity. There’s celebrity by proxy, which is kind of what I am, I’m married to a celebrity, you know. And there’s layers, there’s layers. And then you get to this mountain, this Mount Everest of celebrity, which is what Bill was. He had everything. Bill was a giant in the business. And he was making a lot of money for a lot of people, too.
The show was filmed in New York at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens. In the early ’90s, Cosby invited a young actor, Lili Bernard, to spend time at the studios. He was mentoring her until she was ready for a part on the show.
[Lili Bernard:] Bill Cosby introduced me to the producers and to the writers and to the crew and to the cast and told them that we would be, you know, making a role for Lili Bernard. “She’s going to be on the show.” So he had me in there to observe. And he was very academic about it. It’s as if he were a professor and I was a student and I had to learn, so that when it was my turn to do the role I would be prepared. And that was all so exciting, that he cared about my craft, and that was exciting to me, to be an artist and he cared, and he wants to help hone my skills. It was just phenomenal. Lili often visited the Cosby studios, spending time backstage as Cosby’s guest. I was used to being on a set where the whole crew was white, where it’s very, very hard to find, you know, a raisin in the bowl of oatmeal. You just don’t see that. Now, here I’m on a sound stage where most of the people are black. It was like, wow, that was phenomenal. “I get to be a part of that?” You know, I get to be a part of history. For me, being on The Cosby Show was like getting to be a part of history, history that changed. You know? It changed the perception of blackness in the world.
[Interviewer:] What did the name Bill Cosby mean to you?
[Lili Bernard:] It meant a great force, who lifted the black male image and the black family image. It meant someone who made me proud of being black. It meant advancement. And it also meant paternity, he was America’s dad.
[Jennifer Lee Pryor] In Hollywood, we all knew that he was a serial cheater. Everybody knew that. That was nothing new. You’ve got this image, this perfect wife, this perfect life, this perfect career, and you’re a serial cheater. So, I mean, a serial cheater.
[Joseph C. Phillips] There was just kind of the… knowledge that he liked women. On the set, it was the parade, that’s what we referred to it as. They would come in in threes and fours, you know. I guess they were auditioning. I don’t know that any of them actually got parts. And he liked, it seemed, a very particular… You know. He had a look that he liked. Lighter skin, longer hair.
[Lili Bernard] He had this obsession with straight hair, right? He bought this blow dryer for me, and often when he mentored me, he told me to first straighten my hair, because he wanted to see what I would look like with straight hair in my role, and he wanted it slicked back, slicked back, like a ballerina.
After a year of mentoring, Lili Bernard was still waiting for her long-promised part on the show. One day, Cosby asked her to come to meet a film producer with him.
[Lili Bernard] We were in New York, and he told me that I had to go to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to meet a producer who would further my career. So before going there he talked to me about this new hotel called the Trump Taj Mahal hotel. The car came for me, it took me to the hotel. I get taken upstairs, to this gigantic suite. And so he gives me this drink, you know, and it’s brown… And he’s like, “Drink it, Bernard, drink it.” And so he actually takes the glass and lifts it up, and pushes it to my face with this kind of exciting energy. And I’m like, “Mr C, I told you, I don’t drink alcohol, what is this?” And he was like, “Drink, drink.” I was like, “OK, you know, whatever.” I’m just, like, obeying Daddy, basically, because he used to say, “Daddy’s here! Daddy’s here!” And… Then very shortly, you know, very shortly, I started getting a sick sensation. The next memory I have is now I’m in a living room area, and… it’s carpet underneath my back. And I remember opening my eyes and seeing brown, you know, it was definitely Bill Cosby. As he was thrusting upon me my back was going, like, against the grain of the rug, and I just remember the burning sensation on the back and my shoulder. I remember a heaviness. Again, I couldn’t move. I’m like, you know, like… feeling like lead, very, very heavy, as if I were paralysed. So I feel like a stick inside of my body, that’s what it feels like, a stick. And I said stick because again, it’s like the last thing I could ever imagine was that Bill Cosby was raping me. Can you believe that? My trust for him, as my father figure, was so great, I trusted him so much, that I couldn’t make that connection, that he could possibly do that.
[Clip from The Cosby Show starring Lili Bernard]
Soon after this alleged incident, Lili finally got to play her long- promised part on The Cosby Show.
[Clip from The Cosby Show starring Lili Bernard continues]
When the contractions reach eight minutes apart,
that’s when you call me.
What did I just say?
Call you every eight minutes.
It was to be her only appearance.
[Clip from The Cosby Show starring Lili Bernard continues]
– OK, thank you.
– Well, I guess I’m off.
Yes, in more ways than one.
[Lili Bernard] She thought of reporting her allegation, but says Cosby persuaded her otherwise. When I told him that I would go to the police station he told me that he would file a police report against me for false accusation and defamation and that, “You know what you get for a false accusation, Bernard? “You get your ass in jail, that’s what you get, Bernard.” And he’s like, “You and I are through, Bernard,” he said, “We’re through. “I don’t ever want to see your face again. You don’t exist. “You are dead, do you hear me, Bernard? You are dead. “I will erase you, do you hear me? “Are you listening? “Are you listening, Bernard? I will erase you.” He was like my dad, you know. He was my dad. And he made it very clear that I was one of his kids. That’s one thing he always used to say to me. “You’re one of my kids, Bernard, you’re one of my kids.”
After eight hit seasons, The Cosby Show ended in 1992. Cosby continued producing TV shows throughout the ’90s, though none had the success of The Cosby Show. But his reputation off-screen continue to grow, as he used his fame to promote the education of African-Americans.
[Bill Cosby:] This is a hip home town.
Cosby handed out cheques for millions of dollars to black colleges around America.
[Bill Cosby:] He looked at it for a while, and then he said something, I think it was in Latin.
You know, like… Damn!
[Lynn Norment] Bill Cosby and Camille Cosby were just phenomenal, incredible, when it came to giving back. They were great philanthropists. He has such a well-rounded reputation. I mean, how could one man… do so much, and be so perfect in so many areas, you know? It’s like that.
Cosby was growing increasingly concerned about the fate of black America. On May the 17th 2004, he gave a now infamous speech about the problems he believed plagued the African-American poor.
[Bill Cosby:] These are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake. And then we all run out and we’re outraged, ‘The cops should’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?
Cosby crisscrossed the country telling African-Americans to change their ways.
[Bill Cosby:] Protect your child! The kid could be busted tonight.
[Bill Cosby:] It’s cursing, and it’s calling each other n i g g e r s as they walk up and down the street. They think they’re hip. They can’t read, they can’t write.
[Robert Huber:] Bill was going around the country, mostly to urban America, and talking tough to inner-city, mostly black men, about getting an education, not using drugs, and pulling their pants up, not wearing them low.
[Bill Cosby:] 70% of teenage pregnancy… African-American female teenage girls.
[Rebecca Traister:] He really directed so much ire at women for being bad mothers, unfaithful partners… sexually promiscuous, not around for their kids, you know, not working… for having been the opposite of everything that he had presented Clair Huxtable as being.
[Bill Cosby:] I’m tired of this. I’m very, very tired.
[Lynn Norment:] Some of the things I related to, and understood where he was coming from. But he began to go on and on about things that made me kind of like, eww, cringe, as a black woman. And I had wished there were things that he had not said. But who can control Cosby?
The now 67-year-old Cosby was about to suffer the first blow to his formidable reputation. Major news networks reported that a woman had come forward with a serious accusation against him.
[NBC News] Police in suburban Philadelphia are investigating entertainer Bill Cosby.
[News] A family friend accuses the comedian of fondling her. It’s a charge he strongly denies.
The woman alleged the sexual assault had taken place at Cosby’s home, outside Philadelphia.
[Maryclaire Dale, Legal Affairs Reporter, The Associated Press:] The criminal suit involved one woman against a big star, and we didn’t even know her name, quite frankly. We knew some brief sketches, details about her life. In other words, she met him through Temple University. You know, she now lived in Canada. She came forward a year later, things like that. I’m not sure how much we really knew about even what degree of sexual assault she was alleging at the time.
The woman reported the alleged attack, but prosecutors decided to take no further action.
[Maryclaire Dale:] So the complaint gets filed, there’s an investigation, Bill Cosby, ultimately, is not charged. And the district attorney explained why. He said, “It’s something of a he said, she said case, “I don’t have enough evidence.” He kind of went one step further, and said that there’s things on both sides that make it a difficult case, that there’s things that weigh against her, there’s things that weigh against him. But in the end of the day, he did not feel that he could get probable cause and win a conviction.
But Cosby’s problems didn’t end there. Having failed to have him charged, the woman now sued him for damages. No longer protected by anonymity, she was revealed as 30-year-old former university sports administrator Andrea Constand.
[Maryclaire Dale:] So some months after the prosecutor decides not to charge Bill Cosby, the woman files a civil sexual battery suit, sexual battery and defamation, and defamation for the fact that he and his agents had basically said, “I didn’t do it. She’s lying.”
Hearing about the civil suit against Cosby, 13 women now approached Constand’s lawyers to say that they too had been raped or sexually assaulted by him. Most remained anonymous. Beth Ferrier, a former model, went public.
[Beth Ferrier:] I wanted to support Andrea Constand. I wanted to not allow him to blackball her, and hurt her like he’d hurt me. I wanted to stop it. And I wanted to stop him.
Beth had previously been in a consensual sexual relationship with Cosby. She alleged that after their relationship ended in 1985, Cosby invited her backstage before his concert in Denver, and sexually assaulted her.
[Beth Ferrier:] I was raped. I was drugged. Yes, I was. I ended up waking up, two or three in the morning, dumped in the back of my car with my clothes all off and on, and whatever he gave me was enough to make you be like tranquillised. But I could move, but it was a dark alley. I was, like, disposed of like trash. My thought was, “Did they take pictures of me?” You know. What really happened? And not having that knowledge is very… It’s terrible. And it leaves you… I was so young.
None of the 13 women now accusing Cosby had gone to the police at the time of their alleged attacks.
[Beth Ferrier:] Would you call the police on Bill Cosby? I mean, the whole question was, I didn’t think… There was never that thought.
During Andrea Constand’s lawsuit Cosby was forced to give four days of evidence in a private hearing at a Philadelphia hotel. The testimony was confidential. In November 2006, Cosby reached a settlement with Andrea Constand. Its terms, and Cosby’s testimony, were kept secret.
[Maryclaire Dale:] So the case settles, and we don’t have a lot of details. We can’t see what was said, and what was not said, and what was denied. And we don’t know the amount. We don’t know who was held credible. We really don’t know if she got a dollar. We wrote about it, and I think, to some degree, we went on our merry way. At least, I did.
Most of the media now moved on from the allegations against Cosby. In Philadelphia, one journalist felt it was still a story worth investigating.
[Robert Huber:] It just struck me in a commonsensical way, if there are so many women claiming that the same thing happened to them, I, as a journalist, need to look at it. That’s a lot of women claiming something really bad had happened to them literally at the hands of Bill Cosby. What is up with that? Is there something to it? I got to a fundamental question, which was, is he trying to save black America, struggling black America, as a bet against these accusations? Is the presentation of Dr Huxtable and other public comedic presentations of Cosby, is that a hedge against, perhaps, private behaviour that is very different from that?
Robert Huber was the first journalist to write a major piece about the allegations now circling around Cosby.
[Robert Huber:] I thought it would be picked up by other media, that it would be talked about, that the dynamic of who Bill Cosby was in the public consciousness would utterly and immediately change. Well, as we know, it didn’t. The media was, essentially, silent. It seemed like such a fundamental and important story, how could it not be chased? How could it not be pursued?
[Rebecca Traister:] America did not want to know that Bill Cosby was being accused of these horrific crimes. He’d created a world that had been so powerful for so many Americans, and especially for white Americans, who did not want to have to contemplate that the image of racial relations that they bought into, in loving The Cosby Show and loving Bill Cosby, might have been built on a set of dreadful lies.
[Announcer:] Tonight… direct from our nation’s capital, it’s the 12th annual Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American humour, celebrating a national treasure, the great Bill Cosby.
In 2009, in a major televised event, Cosby was honoured for his outstanding contribution to American comedy.
[Chris Rock:] I want to say this man is one of the…without a doubt, one of the biggest influences ever in my life.
Neither Cosby nor the celebrities present gave any hint of the fact that 13 women had been prepared to testify that he had drugged and raped them. His reputation remained untarnished.
[Jerry Seinfeld:] Even though we are here tonight to honour him, I must also say how honoured I feel that, tonight, I am somehow, somehow standing here with the opportunity to publicly thank him for all he has meant to me.
[Victoria Valentino:] It griped my ass. I hated it. It twisted my gut. All of his accolades, every time I heard, my stomach would twist. Because I knew who he really was.
[Beth Ferrier:] It just thoroughly disgusted me. He just continued to be famous, while we all just went back into the woodwork. We’re just in the shadows.
[The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon]
Hit it, spinner.
By 2013, the now 76-year-old Cosby was as busy and popular as ever, appearing on national talk shows before adoring fans and presenters.
[Late Show with David Letterman, CBS]
Bill Cosby, everybody.
You are nothing if not intelligent, worldly, intuitive, wildly smart…
He was planning a new tour… a comedy special with Netflix and was about to star in a new sitcom with NBC. But all that was about to change.
Philadelphia, October 16, 2014
[Hannibal Buress:] Bill Cosby has the fuckin’ smuggest old black man public persona that I hate…
Stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress made a joke about Bill Cosby and rape. Sitting in the audience was a Philadelphia magazine journalist.
[Dan McQuade, Philadelphia Magazine:] I like to think I’m pretty good at knowing when something needs to be filmed for a story, and as soon as he said Cosby, I… like, something clicked in my head, and I was like, “Newsworthy! “Let’s start filming.”
[Hannibal Buress:] He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the ‘80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches. ‘I don’t curse on stage!’ Well, yeah, but you’re a rapist.
[Dan McQuade:] I wrote the thing in the morning, and I don’t think it got posted until late in the day. I believe it was BuzzFeed picked up on it. Once a site of that size picked up on it, it was all over. Suddenly, you know, every site had written about it.
[Hannibal Buress:] You leave here and Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny, that shit has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.’
[Jennifer Lee Pryor:] Hannibal, when he said that, and the grainy kind of shitty video, crappy video that was taken at that show, he was pissed. He said, “Don’t you lecture me. “I don’t want to hear it. You’re a rapist.” Bow! It just caught fire. That was it. That was the fire, that was the match.
[Robert Huber:] My feeling was, “Oh, my God, here it is.” And where were you ten years ago, media and people talking about it?
Hannibal Buress was referring to allegations first made ten years earlier. This time, America listened.
[Jennifer Lee Pryor:] Buress was the tipping point. He was the one, because you have a black man saying to another black man, “Don’t lecture us any more. “We don’t like it – ‘Pull your pants up.'” It was a brother accusing a brother.
[Lynn Norment:] That is more believable than it would be if Hannibal had been a white man. Then the black community would have cried racism.
[Robert Huber:] There was a certain safety in, well, if a black man is saying this so directly, maybe it’s something we can look at, we being the media and white people collectively. Maybe there’s something to it, a safety in him starting it.
[Interviewer:] I have to ask about your name coming up in the news recently regarding this comedian…
[Cosby:] No, no, we don’t answer that.
Three weeks after the Buress video first appeared, Cosby did an interview about a donation he was making to a museum.
[Interviewer:] Can I ask you, with the persona that people know about Bill Cosby, should they believe anything differently about what…?
[Cosby:] There is no comment about that. Now, can I get something from you?
[Interviewer:] What’s that?
[Cosby:] That none of that will be shown?
[Interviewer:] You didn’t say anything.
[Cosby:] I know I didn’t say anything…
[Interviewer:] I will tell that to my editors. And I think that they will understand.
[Cosby:] I think if you want to consider yourself to be serious, that it will not appear anywhere.
In Los Angeles, the furore surrounding the Hannibal Buress video reached Victoria Valentino. She had kept her story secret for 45 years.
[Victoria Valentino:] It hit me. It was like this little red rocket went off from my gut and exploded in my brain. I was so pissed off, it was, like, a comedian, a man, a black man as it turns out, but a man was suddenly believed. And a woman was not believed. But I knew I had to speak up at that point. It was time.
[CNN Live] You allege that Bill Cosby drugged you and then sexually assaulted you.
[Victoria Valentino:] Yes. He drugged me and my roommate, who he had eyes for.
[Victoria Valentino:] It was absolutely liberating. It was incredible, to actually get it out, to be heard, to be validated, to be listened to as if I were… you know… an intelligent person.
[Reporter:] And the drumbeat continues. Two more women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault by Bill Cosby.
Victoria joined a growing number of women now making new accusations against Cosby spanning the past 50 years. Many of the women contacted America’s best-known women’s rights lawyer, Gloria Allred.
[Gloria Allred, Attorney:] Women then started calling me and sharing with me their accusations against Mr Cosby. Of course, supporters of Mr Cosby, who love the fantasy, that he is what you see on television, as Dr Huxtable, they’re going to be disturbed, because it does interrupt the fantasy. But I’m here about the reality. I’m not here about the fantasy.
Gloria Allred now put Cosby’s accusers before the world’s media to tell their stories.
[Beth Ferrier:] Hello and thank you. My name is Beth Ferrier. This is my statement. I believe that Mr Cosby drugged me and sexually assaulted me that night.
[Beth Ferrier:] I was able to look at all those people around the room and tell them, “I’m telling you the truth. “This is who this person really is.”
[Gloria Allred:] And then more and more contacted me, and then more, and more.
[Helen Hayes:] He approached me from behind, and reached over my shoulder and grabbed my right breast.
[Victoria Valentino:] It was like, wow, it was like the wave, you know? The truth was finally coming out.
A reputation carefully built over 50 years was finally beginning to unravel. News bulletins reported how attitudes towards Cosby were changing.
[America Now Local 12 News] NBC ditches its plan to bring Bill Cosby back to prime time. The decision comes a day after Netflix announced that it postponed a stand-up comedy special featuring Cosby.
The rape allegations were now the subject of jokes on national television.
[Real time with Bill Maher]
[Bill Maher:] This guy has put more people to sleep than warm milk!
[72nd Golden Globe Awards]
[Tina Fey:] Cosby admitted to a reporter, I put the pills in the people. The people did not want the pills in them.
But not everyone abandoned Cosby.
[Joseph C. Phillips:] It’s a small show-business community, and quite frankly, some of those women are lying. I’ll tell you that right now. Some of them are lying, trying to get publicity, to help their careers, or because they want to be in on something special. Or, if it’s that bad, then you call the police right then and there. Let’s not wait 20 years and then come out with a bunch of tears and, you know, all of that.
Some celebrities, particularly in the black community, also stuck by him, including his on-screen wife from The Cosby Show.
[Phylicia Rashad:] Well, my initial reaction to the allegations was… “Hmmm, someone has a vested interest in “preventing Mr Cosby’s return to network television.”
On daytime TV show The View, Whoopi Goldberg argued people shouldn’t rush to judgment.
[ABC, The View]
[Whoopi Goldberg:] Because until you know if it’s true, until you know that it’s true, it’s an allegation. That’s all it… That’s what it is. So, for me…
[Lynn Norment:] So many people in our community don’t want to believe it, because Cosby has been so big, such an icon but such a positive role model for so many years, and we don’t want to believe this is true. I don’t want to believe this is true.
Lili Bernard, now a Los Angeles artist, was initially reluctant to come forward to tell her story.
[Lili Bernard:] So my coming forward meant that I would have to, now, contend with black America, and how is black America going to view me as a black woman speaking out against an icon? We’d be illuminating another great black man as a scoundrel, right? And so what would that do for the image of the black man? And that was a burden to bear. Like, I felt like I was going to be crucified. I felt like, wow, that my own black community was going to crucify me. But what started happening was that all of these women are coming forward. I’m just going to be silent? I’m not going to say anything? So I felt internally conflicted, and I felt this urge, thinking, like, “I have to speak.”
On May the 15th 2015, Lili broke 25 years of silence.
[Lili Bernard:] I walk into a room, and there is just, like, 20 press cameras and microphones here and 20 over here, and we’re on this little platform, and I’m, like, “Oh, wow, I’m going to do this.”
[Lili Bernard:] After he had won my complete trust and adoration, he drugged and raped me. Let…
[Lili Bernard:] During that press conference I’m crying. ‘You know? And I’m hyperventilating, I can’t catch my breath.’ It was the first time I’d talked about the rape publicly.
[Lili Bernard:] His last words to me were… “As far as I’m concerned, Bernard, you’re dead. “Do you hear me? You’re dead, Bernard. “You don’t exist.”
Joseph Phillips had worked with Lili on The Cosby Show. They were good friends.
[Joseph C. Phillips:] It began to be harder and harder to defend, more and more people coming out. People I knew came forward and said things. I thought, “This is different. “I know her. And I know she’s not crazy. “And I know she doesn’t need anything. “And yet she’s saying something’s happened.” It took that for me to finally say… “I think he’s guilty.” It was the rug being pulled out from under me… because… I loved him… and felt… Just the amount of respect I had for him. And I felt cheated. I felt lied to. He was America’s dad.
Bill Cosby’s reputation was now in tatters. But he had never been charged with any crime. Under the US statute of limitations, all the alleged incidents had occurred too long ago… all except one… the alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand in 2004.
[Maryclaire Dale:] I remember thinking, “You know, “let’s go back and look at the 2004 case, “and see if there’s anything more we can glean from it.” And as I looked, I realised, “I think that’s the only time he “ever had to give testimony under oath,” and to me, the critical thing was it doesn’t matter to me what Bill Cosby’s agent says in front of the camera, quite frankly, or what Bill Cosby says in a celebrity magazine. What I care about is “What did he say under oath?”
During the civil case brought against him in 2005, Cosby had given four days of confidential testimony to Andrea Constand’s lawyers. Maryclaire Dale and the Associated Press now went to court to see if they could have Cosby’s secret deposition released.
[Maryclaire Dale:] Mr Cosby’s lawyers argued that this is a private matter and that it would be very embarrassing for Mr Cosby, that he has the right to privacy. And the Associated Press argued that he had asserted himself into the public conversation, that he really had a diminished right to privacy, because he wasn’t just Joe Citizen, he is a celebrity, he is a celebrity who preaches to the rest of us about morality and behaviour and conduct.
The judge decided that Cosby’s years of public moralising negated his right to privacy. He ruled in favour of Maryclaire and released Cosby’s testimony.
[Maryclaire Dale:] There was patterns that emerged, you know, there was patterns where he offered to mentor somebody, offered to give somebody a small part in his show, they were often very young, and acknowledging that he then had some level of sexual activity with them.
[Gloria Allred:] He testified that he had given pills, Quaaludes, to women, with the intent to have sex with those women.
[Victoria Valentino:] It was just unbelievable, because there he was, actually saying it. So nobody could say to us what they had been saying, that we were gold-diggers, that we were whores, that we were just out to bring this good black man down. You know? This was true, because we heard it in his own words.
[Maryclaire Dale;] So he was a very different man than the sort of morality that he advertises in his public life. And people reacted very strongly to that.
As the evidence mounted, even those who had previously appeared to defend Cosby now abandoned him.
[Whoopi Goldberg:] If this is to be tried in the court of public opinion, I’ve got to say, all of the information that’s out there kind of points to guilt.
The evidence revealed in Cosby’s testimony was key. It convinced prosecutors to re-examine their decision not to charge him in 2005 for the alleged assault of Andrea Constand… a view strengthened by the number of accusers who had now come forward.
So it’s not a she said, he said, it will be a he said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said…
[CNN Live:] Breaking news. For the first time Bill Cosby has been criminally charged with aggravated indecent assault. This is a sexual assault charge.
Bill Cosby has been charged with three counts of indecent sexual assault. If found guilty, he faces up to ten years in prison.
[Joseph C. Phillips:] Everything that he built, over his entire fantastic career, the philanthropy, his support of education, opening doors for black directors, black cameramen etc etc, there’s that legacy of Bill Cosby that is now tarnished, is threatened.
[Lynn Norment:] It’s heartbreaking. Guilt or innocent. It’s just heartbreaking. Because he was a great man, and I want to say he still is a great man.
[James Poniewozik:] When America’s dad turns out to be a predator… you know, it’s like losing a monument or something. That doesn’t change that The Cosby Show is one of the most important parts of television history. You know, I think the importance of Bill Cosby’s work doesn’t change.
[Lili Bernard:] It’s the vehicle that Bill Cosby used as a smokescreen to disguise his criminality, to divert the world from knowing that he’s nothing but a low-down, dirty, lying coward who is wreaking havoc upon women’s lives. So that’s all The Cosby Show was. That’s all his philanthropy, that’s all of his moralising and his giving of millions of dollars was, a smokescreen, a diversion.
[Victoria Valentino:] You can’t get away with this crap forever. You can’t. It comes back on you sooner or later. And I’m grateful that it has.
Bill Cosby pleaded not guilty to all charges in the Andrea Constand case. He has either denied or declined to comment on the other cases. The recent sessual assault case against Bill Cosby ended in a mistrial after the jury was deadlocked. Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele has said his prosecutors will seek to retry Cosby on the same charges within 120 days.
Narrated by Thandie Newton