Unless you live under a rock next to a Brooklyn brownstone, you’ve heard about Bill Cosby – once America’s Dad and now accused party in 58 claims of sexual assault – being indicted for a 2004 sexual assault case on December 30. You’d probably have to be living under a rock and also be without cell-phone service as well, since every form of both mainstream and social media has been flooded with coverage, speculation, and conspiracy theories galore. The latter is our concern today, but let’s summarize the facts of the main case first.
The case, originally reported by alleged victim Andrea Constand – a former employee of Cosby’s alma mater, Temple University – was filed in 2005, but prosecutor (and later Montgomery County, PA district attorney) Bruce Castor declined to file charges. Constand instead sued Cosby in civil court, and after 13 Jane Does agreed to testify against Cosby, he settled with Constand out of court with a payout in 2006. Cosby’s testimony from that civil case was leaked to the public this past July by federal judge Eduardo C. Robreno, following several months that had seen the story re-enter the public consciousness and dozens of other accusers come forward to relay stories of Cosby assaulting or attempting to drug and assault them. It is that testimony – of which you can read Deadspin’s coverage and the documents themselves here – that convinced then-current Montgomery County’s D.A. Risa Vetri Ferman to re-open the case and file charges, as the statute of limitations on Constand’s case expired this month.
Now that we done got that out the way…
My social media timeline, as well as those of many other Black and brown people, are flooded with Cosby apologists – many of them people hardcore fans of The Cosby Show and its spin-off, A Different World, who are unable or unwilling to separate Dr. William H. Cosby from The Cosby Show‘s affable patriarch, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. Given that Cosby was of monumental importance to the history and evolution of depictions of black families on television, and that the program has now been largely withdrawn from television syndication (but is still up on Hulu), the consensus among many is that the Cosby scandal is some form of an attack on not just an important and successful Black figure, but on Blackness and the Black family in general (hi, Eddie Griffin and Fazion Love).
“Why are they picking on Bill?” has been a common refrain over the last few days, never mind the last week. Many have proposed he’s being framed for having affairs, behind the back of Camille Cosby, his wife of over 50 years, with “a bunch of white women”. Others have proposed that The Cosby Show – a #1 sitcom that featured an upper-middle-class family run by a doctor father and a lawyer mother – did too much good for Black Americans, and we had to be told in no uncertain terms that we could never aspire to reach those heights of financial stability. The most popular conspiracy, by far, is that Cosby was “about to buy NBC”, and therefore “the powers that be” – the Illuminati, the secret cabal people imagine Hollywood to be, whoever – hired nearly 60 crisis actresses to take Cosby down and destroy his legacy. Lest, of course, he get his hands on the National Broadcasting Company and use it to, once and for all, save Black people from themselves using the magic and power of the waning medium of over-the-air broadcast television.
I’m here to tell you why, in no uncertain terms, none of that NBC stuff makes sense. What’s actually happened is that people have conflated two stories involving Cosby and NBC into one via the game of Internet telephone, so let’s separate them back out again, using those oft-ignored things called facts.
Now, it is true that Bill Cosby wanted to buy NBC. The problem is that he wanted to buy NBC back in October 1992, not in October 2014 when Hannibal Buress told a few jokes at his expense during a stand-up routine. Back in 1992, NBC had been having ratings trouble for quite some time. The Cosby Show had fallen out of the top ten and the decision was made to end the show in 1992. Only two of the top 10 shows on TV in the 1991-92 United States television season – Unsolved Mysteries and Cheers – originated on NBC’s air.
To that end, quite a few outside entities made offers to NBC’s parent company, General Electric (yes, the light-bulb and refrigerator people) to take the beleaguered network off the company’s hands. Before Cosby’s offer, NBC reportedly had to turn away an offer from Paramount Communications (predecessor of Viacom). Instead of buying NBC, Paramount Communications ended up hiring away Brandon Tartikoff, president of NBC’s entertainment programming division, to become chairman of Paramount Pictures in 1991.
Cosby’s offer came roughly a year or two after Paramount’s. As reported in the October 29, 1992 edition of The New York Times, Norman Brokaw, Cosby’s longtime agent, met with Bob Wright, president and CEO of the NBC network, on behalf of Cosby to inquire about possibly purchasing the network. As Cosby’s total net worth in 1992 was $300 million, and the estimated worth of NBC, Inc. was about $4 billion, Cosby clearly wasn’t going to be able to buy the whole network himself, and to that end he and his lawyer, Herbert Chaice, had begun corralling outside investors. Cosby planned of course to be “one of a number of principals” in this consortium, according to Chaice, even though in order for that to happen, Cosby would need roughly 14 or 15 other investors to go in with him so that he could attain one of the largest shares of NBC.
There was only one problem: NBC was “not for sale”, Bob Wright told Norman Brokaw. This was the same answer he’d given Paramount; note that I’ve yet to see Majestic Mountain or any of the stars around it accused of sexual assault. Cosby may have wanted to buy it, but if GE didn’t want to sell, they didn’t have to and weren’t going to.
Someone who was clearly a troll (egg avatar, unreasonable tone, not making sense; all signs) on Twitter tried to argue that “NBC is publicly traded” and therefore “always for sale” (by, one would assume, a hostile takeover of the type Rupert Murdock tried with Time Warner a year ago, but more likely something this Twitter troll heard of via Empire).
(Warning: strong language)
However, NBC’s never been an independent corporation; never, not once, in its 90-year history. RCA was NBC’s original parent company, and General Electric actually owned RCA during NBC’s first four years of existence until antitrust issues forced GE to spin RCA off. GE bought RCA again in 1986, broke it apart, keeping some assets (NBC among them) and selling off others.
NBC thereafter remained a subsidiary of GE until 2003 – 12 years after Cosby tried to buy it – at which time NBC was merged with Vivendi’s Universal Studios to form the entertainment conglomerate NBCUniversal, of which Vivendi owned 51% and GE retained 49%. Comcast eventually bought first Vivendi’s and then GE’s interest in NBCUniversal, and NBC now belongs to them.
When the Andrea Constand case first turned up in 2005, speculation did abound even then that Cosby was being “punished” for his success and trying to buy NBC. When the Hannibal Buress thing happened seven years later, this rumor resurfaced, fused with the news that NBC was canceling an in-development pilot for a new sitcom that would star the now-septuagenarian Cosby (a fully-produced Netflix stand-up special was also shelved). As often happens with these rumors, this misinformation spread via tweets, Facebook posts, and poor screenshots of Instagram memes (aside: if you want to share something online, why not just “save-as”? Why do your Instagram shares look like printouts from a fax machine in need of a new ink cartridge?). And since its Bill Cosby, and the idea feeds preexisting conspiracy theories about the entertainment industry, it’s easy for people to believe, facts be damned.
The Bill Cosby scandal, due to the sheer number of accusers coming forward and the accused being, well, Bill Cosby, is going to be the sort of news story that’s going to foster all sorts of speculation parallel or perpendicular to the actual facts of the case. However, wild speculation about entertainment business dealings that are easily debunked by typing G-O-O-G-L-E-dot-C-O-M into a browser sort of bug me. Hence this article. So, if you need a reason for why Cosby’s been accused of sexual assault by over four dozen women that doesn’t involve the direct facts in the cases, please try to pick one that’s not so clearly false.
Thanks in advance.