Good god – can Brendan O’Neill really be that thick? Confusing Bill Cosby’s ontological status with his legal status?
Bill Cosby – what a creep. Drugging all those women, molesting them, raping some. Can you believe we worshipped this guy when he played the joke-making everyman Cliff Huxtable in the Eighties? Well, now we know better. He isn’t the loveable avuncular dude we all thought he was. Rather, as those memes slicing through the internet like knives in Caesar’s back reveal, he’s a ‘serial rapist’. As one especially popular internet tag has it: ‘America’s fave dad by day – serial rapist by night.’
That has been the tenor of the discussion about Cosby on the web over the past fortnight. And it has been as ugly as hell: vindictive, gossip-fuelled, backward and positively medieval in its rush to condemn a man before he has been found guilty of a crime. Whatever you think of Cosby – I remember even as a kid I thought The Cosby Show was pants – this media-led public criminalisation of someone who hasn’t been convicted of a crime should chill you. Because the fact is, Cosby is innocent of rape.
Just as you are. Just as I am. At least until such a time as someone does the very hard job of proving beyond reasonable doubt that he did rape someone. There’s a phrase for this, I think. How does it go? Ah, yes: ‘A man is presumed innocent until proven guilty.’
No, not a man, Brendan. A person, an accused, a defendant – not a man. It applies to women too.
But never mind that. Dear god is he kidding? The fact that X is presumed innocent in a court of law does not equate to “X is innocent.” The “phrase” he trots out itself doesn’t say that – it doesn’t say “is innocent,” it says “is presumed innocent.” There’s a difference.
The presumption of innocence matters in court, and it matters for what can legally be said, which is why news media use the word “alleged” so liberally. But it doesn’t change the facts. It’s possible for a guilty person to be acquitted in court and it’s possible for an innocent person to be convicted in court. Neither of those changes the facts either. X is innocent if X is innocent, not if a court finds X not guilty.
So, no. O’Neill is completely wrong to say “the fact is, Cosby is innocent of rape.” He doesn’t know that, just as I don’t know Cosby is guilty of rape. He and I both don’t know what the fact is.
Does Bill Cosby rape women? Has he ever? We don’t know, but justice – Enlightenment itself – demands that we say, ‘No. Prove otherwise if you can.’
No, it does not. O’Neill is confusing how the legal system is required to treat defendants with what everyone else is supposed to say and think about them. Justice doesn’t require us to pretend we know defendants are innocent any more than it requires us to pretend we know they’re guilty.
I have news for these twenty-first-century Salemites: Bill Cosby, we must presume, is innocent. And given that the passing of the statute of limitations means he’s very unlikely to be brought to court to face his accusers, he will remain innocent. I’m sorry if that gets in the way of your search for a demon to yell about, but that’s life: liberty and justice are more important than your weird psychological need for evil.
Ah yes, so if a guy succeeds in getting away with rape for years by the simple expedient of drugging his victims so that their testimony becomes worthless, then hahahahaha statute of limitations you lose and HE’S INNOCENT so hahaha suck it.