Alleged Rapist Bill Cosby Bullies Reporter, Explains How Life Works

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The problem with most conspiracy theories about how the media works is that they assume power exerts itself overtly. The truth is that it doesn't have to. Journalists are rarely told by powerful or influential people not to cover certain stories; they usually simply decline to cover them out of a variety of motives, some nobler and some less so.

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates wrestled with this in an unusually honest piece yesterday in which he explained why he'd only briefly mentioned rape allegations against Bill Cosby in a 2008 profile. His motives—an awareness that to write about the allegations would totally change the nature of the profile, and that given where he was in his career in 2008, tearing the piece down and rebuilding it wasn't really an option—are understandable, but the end result was that he let a powerful person go unchallenged, and ended up telling something less than the truth as he knew it.

In the video above, though, which is more than a little reminiscent of the Donald Sterling tapes, Cosby speaks aloud what usually goes unspoken. When an Associated Press reporter asks him about the accusations, a visibly contemptuous Cosby resorts to the majestic plural in explaining why he won't be commenting, suggesting that he's not a person but a concern, or an enterprise. After the interview, he asks the reporter to assure him that no one will ever know about this.

Can I get something from you, that none of that will be shown? I'm asking your integrity that since I didn't want to say anything but I did answer you, in terms of I don't want to say anything, of what value will it have ... I would appreciate it if it were scuttled.

Cosby goes back and forth a bit with the reporter and his producer; they promise nothing but assure him that the AP hasn't written about the credible, long-public accusations that he is a serial rapist, and doesn't necessarily see any value in doing so. He then invokes a sort of unwritten contract, which he's clearly incredulous he even has to mention.

I think if you want to consider yourself to be serious that it will not appear anywhere ... We thought, by the way, that because it was AP that it wouldn't be necessary to go over that question with you.

The first part of this is telling—mentioning that there's very good reason to think that a beloved comedian and social activist has spent decades drugging and raping women, Cosby can't believe he has to remind this reporter, is simply not the done thing—but the second is a lot more so. Powerful people don't call editors and publishers to get the truth about them buried. They rely on the fact that they don't have to. And it usually works! The AP had this interview in their hands for weeks, and only released it after Cosby was so thoroughly and widely discredited that he no longer had any power to call on. It could almost make you wonder what else they haven't felt it necessary to release.