Bill of rights till proven guilty

The Star Early Edition - - TONIGHT EDITOR'S NOTE - LARA DE MATOS TONIGHT ED­I­TOR lara.dematos@inl.co.za

HIS was a face that lit up our tel­lies dur­ing the tur­bu­lent decade that was the ’80s. At a time when our tele­vi­sion chan­nels were still imag­i­na­tively named TV1, TV2, TV3 and – later – TV4 (with equally ba­nal sched­ul­ing to boot), of­ten, our only hope of catch­ing a glimpse of qual­ity in­ter­na­tional pro­gram­ming was through the use of a long pole and a UHF aerial (pre­car­i­ously po­si­tioned out­side the win­dow) that led us to a snowy screened Bop TV.

But then there was Bill. The loving, laid-back fa­ther fig­ure with a mis­chievous glint in his eye and a grin per­pet­u­ally play­ing at his lips, whom we all adored in his quin­tes­sen­tial role as Dr Heathcliff Huxtable.

It’s an im­age that has de­fined him through­out the years and while logic dic­tates (and his­tory tells) that an ac­tor can of­ten be miles re­moved from the roles he por­trays, some­how, Cosby the man and Heath the fic­ti­tious per­sona al­ways seemed in­ter­change­able.

Per­haps this ex­plains the many raised eye­brows as al­le­ga­tions re­gard­ing his re­ported sex­ual im­pro­pri­eties resur­faced re­cently. Bill Cosby a rapist-cum-sex­ual preda­tor? The very no­tion of it sounds like a bad script for a tawdry B-grade movie.

But as is of­ten the case in our new­found dig­i­tal world where an un­sub­stan­ti­ated Tweet can take on gospel truth sta­tus, he has al­ready be­come the stuff of “Sor­did Dou­ble Life” head­lines, with the ac­com­pa­ny­ing hy­per­bole around “mul­ti­ple af­fairs” (he had one – 23 years ago), an il­licit love child (who, gos­sip­mon­gers may care to know, was jailed for at­tempt­ing to ex­tort $24 mil­lion from Cosby) and drug abuse, all be­ing splashed about for sen­sa­tional ef­fect.

To the fickle folk quick to play judge and ju­ror that, in 2006, a civil law­suit brought for­ward by 13 women ac­cus­ing Cosby of sex­ual as­sault was set­tled out of court “un­der sealed terms”, serves as in­dis­putable proof of his cul­pa­bil­ity.

Never mind that said women were rather ques­tion­able char­ac­ters them­selves (one of whom, a lawyer, was later dis­barred for mal­prac­tice) or that, as Whoopi Gold­berg pointed out in an episode of The View that aired ear­lier this week: “Set­tle­ments don’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you’re guilty. You gen­er­ally set­tle be­cause you don’t want to put your fam­ily through a drawn out le­gal process…”

All of which (at the risk of be­ing de­rided as play­ing devil’s ad­vo­cate) isn’t to say that Cosby’s in­no­cent ei­ther. As the ol’ say­ing goes, ap­pear­ances can be de­ceiv­ing and in the make-be­lieve world of show­biz, this adage is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant.

(Woody Allen seems about as preda­tory – or ap­peal­ing – as a slug, yet ex-flame Mia Far­row’s fears that he was get­ting a lit­tle too close for com­fort to her adop­tive daugh­ter, Soon-Yi Previn, were val­i­dated when Allen stepped out with Previn. Who was all of 19 years old at the time, mak­ing him 37 years her se­nior.)

But be­fore the pub­lic and the me­dia set about sys­tem­at­i­cally de­stroy­ing the life of a 77-year-old beloved ac­tor, ac­tivist and grand­fa­ther, based purely on con­jec­ture, we would do well to follow Whoopi’s ex­am­ple by “re­serv­ing judge­ment”.

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