An article in the LA Times today about Bill Cosby and the current situation had a very interesting statement from Cosby’s attorney:
“The situation is an unprecedented example of the media’s breakneck rush to run stories without any corroboration or adherence to traditional journalistic standards. Over and over again, we have refuted these new unsubstantiated stories with documentary evidence, only to have a new uncorroborated story crop up out of the woodwork. When will it end?”
This meshed with an earlier blog post I read from Mark Evanier about Cosby:
I’m trying to invent a scenario where he comes out of this okay and goes back to being Bill Cosby. I can’t. And maybe one of the reasons he’s not going on TV to try and deny it is that he can’t, either. He’d have to say all these women are lying and that would (a) embolden them to repeat the charges louder, (b) cause him to be accused of trashing his victims, (c) maybe bring forth other accusers and (d) not be believed by very many people. He may try it but on a “nothing to lose” basis, which is not a good reason to do anything.
In other words, at this point, Cosby’s career is toast. It’s over if he admits the charges. It’s over if he denies the charges for the reasons above. It’s over if he ignores the charges. Note that this is all true whether or not the charges are true.
This also meshes with a third point I heard from a security expert at a security conference once. He said that if you truly want to trash someone, you break into their computer, plant child porn, delete it, and then call the authorities. They can’t admit it, they can’t deny it (because they look guilty). They are positively screwed.
This, my friends, is the power of the evil word — of loshan hora. Gossip about people may not be true, but cannot be taken back once said. We’re all eager to learn about it. We’re all eager to repeat it. We all do so with nary a thought about whether it is true, whether it is substantiated with evidence, or the damage it may cause.
Now, I don’t care whether the news about Cosby is true (well, if it is, I do hope the women find some relief by coming out about it). Cosby’s contributions are no less than they were before, just as Woody Allen’s films are no less funny given what he did, or that Roman Polanski’s films are not art. All it means is that we shouldn’t put artists on a pedestal; artists are often very flawed individuals. These problems go back to the days of Roscoe Arbuckle. In the long run, their art will be what is remembered, but they will always have that asterisk.
What I do care about is what we do. We must be careful about loshan hora, malicious gossip. Before we repeat or believe a story about someone (and pass it on), let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. Let’s find out — and confirm — that it is true. The reputation you save may be your own.