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'Chasing Cosby' Author Says Covering The Cosby Case Was A Journey Of Disillusionment

Bill Cosby is taken away in handcuffs after he was sentenced for felony sexual assault on Sept. 25, 2018, in Norristown, Penn.
Mark Makela
Bill Cosby is taken away in handcuffs after he was sentenced for felony sexual assault on Sept. 25, 2018, in Norristown, Penn.

Before Bill Cosby was an inmate at a Pennsylvania state prison, he held a pristine reputation as one of Hollywood's most beloved entertainers.

So when Andrea Constand's sexual assault allegations against Cosby broke in 2005, Nicole Weisensee Egan, an investigative reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News at the time, was skeptical. She had grown up watching The Cosby Show, revering the show's family-friendly main character, Cliff Huxtable.

"I was like, 'Who is this woman?' Because they weren't releasing her name," Egan says.

Author Nicole Weisensee Egan, who worked as a reporter for the <em>Philadelphia Daily News</em> when sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby surfaced in 2005, has covered the Cosby case for more than a decade.
/ Photo by Steven Goldblatt
Photo by Steven Goldblatt
Author Nicole Weisensee Egan, who worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News when sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby surfaced in 2005, has covered the Cosby case for more than a decade.

Like Egan, few people wanted to believe that "America's Dad" could be guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting women.

But as Egan began to dig, she grew disillusioned. Constand emerged as a credible accuser.

"I could not figure out a motive for making up allegations against a powerful and beloved man like Bill Cosby," she says.

In her new book, Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America's Dad, Egan presents a critical look at Constand's allegations against Cosby and then-Montgomery County district attorney Bruce Castor Jr.'s decision not to prosecute him in 2005, owing to "insufficient credible and admissible evidence."

After that decision, Constand would sue Cosby in civil court. The case was settled, with both sides signing a non-disclosure agreement.

Cosby denied the allegations against him, but they didn't go away. By 2014, with rumors swirling around Cosby, a video of comedian Hannibal Buress calling Cosby a "rapist" went viral, fueling a new round of allegations. In all, more than 60 women would come forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct.

The allegations would prompt news organizations to give the claims renewed attention. Prosecutors took notice too, and in 2018, a Pennsylvania jury found Cosby guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Constand.

<em>Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America's Dad </em>by Nicole Weisensee Egan.
/ Seal Press
Seal Press
Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America's Dad by Nicole Weisensee Egan.

While covering the story, Egan says she saw how news organizations were pressed to keep from covering the allegations against Cosby.

"I was getting on all these national talk shows at night, and the bookers were telling me that Cosby's people were pressuring them not to have me on," she says.

She says larger forces were also at work to keep the allegations quiet. Specifically, a culture that for generations has implicitly discouraged victims of sexual assault from speaking out.

"It's also about the inherent distrust we as a society have of sexual assault victims when they come forward," Egan says.

(These interview excerpts have been edited for clarity and length.)

Interview Highlights

On what led to the reopening of the criminal investigation against Cosby in 2015

[Philly Mag reporter] Dan McQuade put [the story about Hannibal Buress referring to Cosby as a rapist] on Philly Mag's Web site. And that Monday, BuzzFeed picked it up and then Gawker and then The Daily Mail, and it just went crazy on Twitter.

... More and more women began coming forward, and then The Associated Press decided to get some documents from Andrea's court case unsealed. There were motions that had excerpts from his deposition in the case, and a federal judge in July of the next year allowed those to be unsealed because he said Cosby had given up his right to privacy by all the public scolding he had done to people through the years. So that narrowed his right to privacy. In those papers, where Cosby admitting to giving drugs to women he wanted to have sex with, specifically Quaaludes. And that's what prompted the reopening of the case.

On what changed between the 2017 trial against Cosby that ended with a deadlocked jury, and the 2018 trial that ended with his conviction

I think the prosecution had run a much better case the second time around. They put a sexual assault expert up first to testify about rape myths and debunking rape myths, and, you know, all of the victim behavior that might seem odd to you — like waiting to report it to authorities, or reporting it at all — is the norm for sexual assault.

So she kind of set the stage for the jury to say, 'You're going to hear some strange things, but this is the normal thing for sexual assault victims. And then, this time, five other women were allowed to testify as opposed to one from the first trial.

On what kept other women from speaking up about Cosby

As far as race goes, you know, many of the African American women who came forward about what Cosby did to them struggled with that too. And in the end, they concluded, as I conclude, that he's not your typical African American defendant. He had seven attorneys at his second trial. How many do you know that could not have the income level to afford that? It's about power and privilege and wealth, and that's what allowed him to escape justice for so long.

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Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.

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