Bill Cosby broke his silence on Friday to lecture the black media on remaining neutral. The comedian and television star’s words have struck a chord among the African-American journalism community and inspired a wide range of reactions.
“I think Mr. Cosby has found himself under extreme scrutiny,” Ebony editor-in-chief, Mitzi Miller, told TheWrap. “When people find themselves in that situation, they speak emotionally. Ebony’s coverage is not about emotion, it’s about fairness. This is a people issue, not a race issue.”
The embattled comedian has remained tight-lipped about the rape and sex abuse allegations from a long list of more than 20 women that now includes supermodel Beverly Johnson.
But in a surprise move, Cosby did speak on Friday with a freelance New York Post reporter who also writes for African-American media, telling him the African-American media should be impartial.
“Let me say this. I only expect the black media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism and when you do that you have to go in with a neutral mind,” Cosby said.
Cosby then cut the conversation off abruptly, saying: “They don’t want me talking to the media.”
But the few words Cosby did manage to express, have already reverberated with the black media he directed his comment to.
“Black media, in fact all media, should remain neutral,” Bob Butler, President of the National Association of Black Journalists told TheWrap Tuesday. “As journalists, that’s what we do, we go in with an open mind and we look to report the story, and I think that’s what’s being done.”
Others interpreted Cosby’s words as a reminder to African-American media outlets of all he’s done for the community.
“I think he’s accurate to assume that black media is more aware of the social contributions that he’s made to the community throughout his career,” Cortney Wills, entertainment editor at CocoaFab, A lifestyle website for black women, told TheWrap, “whereas the mainstream media is more aware of his career as a comedian and that’s it.”
There might be another reason Cosby is focusing specifically on African-American media movers and shakers.
“I think Cosby is well aware of that initial turmoil the black media felt when hearing these allegations,” said Wills. “He knows the difficulty of separating what he’s done for the community and the crimes he’s accused of. That’s the one leg he’s got left to stand on: the assumption that black media should know better.”
Still, some in the black media world say the ever-growing allegations against Cosby are increasingly harder to ignore.
“I try to stay neutral as I do with all my stories,” said Wills. “But I reluctantly have to admit that when I saw Beverly Johnson, I was like, ‘this kinda tipped the scale for me, because I just thought why would she lie?’”
On Dec. 11, Johnson told Vanity Fair Cosby drugged her during an audition for “The Cosby Show” in the mid-80s.
Cosby’s reputation has already suffered a major hit from one of the black community’s most reputable institutions, Spelman College. The African-American women’s liberal arts school suspended a program named after Cosby. Two of the comedian’s daughters attended the school, and the family donated $20 million to the institution in 1988.
A statement from Spelman released Sunday said the program named after the Cosby “the current context prevents us from continuing to meet these objectives fully.”
Nevertheless, Miller doesn’t believe the accusations hit one community harder than another. “I don’t think the African-American community was affected any differently than any other community.”