Editorials of The Times

A Reckoning for Cosby — Now for Others?

Posted Updated

, New York Times
A Reckoning for Cosby — Now for Others?

Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault on Thursday, more than 50 years after Kristina Ruehli says Cosby sexually assaulted her after giving her drinks that made her pass out; more than 40 years after Judy Huth says Cosby got her drunk and sexually assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion when she was 15; more than 30 years after model Janice Dickinson says he sexually assaulted her after giving her wine and a pill.

About five dozen women have accused the once-beloved comedian in a half-century pattern of violence so routine that a judge let five of them testify against him at trial, where he was found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, an employee at his alma mater, Temple University, in his Pennsylvania home 14 years ago.

Most of these cases share two things: Women say Cosby drugged and assaulted them, and they were too intimidated by his fame and power to press charges or make their accusations public. The persistent pathology of Cosby’s conduct is rare. The fears of his accusers are not.

Over the past six months or so, in what has come to be called the #MeToo movement, women — and some men — have come forward with long-repressed and long-ignored accusations that powerful men abused and harassed them with impunity. Some of the most famous men in entertainment, journalism and other fields have been defenestrated, often after years of predatory behavior.

Some people might see cause for hope in the Cosby verdict, since he was the first celebrity convicted in the #MeToo era.

But since it happened only after scores of women suffered in silence for decades, and only in the midst of a global reckoning with sexual violence, even a “victory” like this verdict suggests that the abused still face a desperately uphill battle.

Some men may yet be punished — in New York, prosecutors are seriously looking at accusations that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein raped one of the many women whose accusations against him set off the #MeToo reckoning. And the punishment Cosby is facing — up to 30 years in prison — would be too severe for much of the misconduct that some other men have been accused of recently.

But a majority of the men accused of improper, even criminal, actions in recent months are unlikely to be brought to justice and instead seem to be waiting things out, often in their mansions, already plotting career comebacks.

Constand fought for years to get to this day. While she won a $3.38 million settlement from Cosby in 2006, that came only after prosecutors in Pennsylvania declined to charge him earlier. His first trial ended with a hung jury last year. The conviction was won this time after those five women were allowed to bolster Constand’s testimony, demonstrating his signature pattern of abuse.

In a sense, this exception both proves the rule — power provides protection — and shows that that shield is not impenetrable. The verdict and the prosecution should make clear that women need to be listened to and their accusations need to be taken seriously.

Mr. Macron Comes to Washington

President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Washington was certainly grand theater: the hugs and kisses with President Donald Trump, the dandruff whisked off his lapel, the first lady’s broad white hat, and then the 40-year-old French wunderkind rising before Congress to deliver a stern lecture in elegantly accented English on why the American president is wrong about multilateralism, protectionism, nationalism, Iran and climate change.

Macron no doubt planned the bait-and-switch for some time. Other world leaders have tried different approaches to dealing with Trump, from joining him in a game of golf, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did, to openly rebuking him, as President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico did this month. None have really worked.

Nor is there much likelihood that the young French president, not yet a year in office, will have changed Trump’s mind in any meaningful way, even after being proclaimed “perfect” by his host. At a candid meeting with a group of journalists on Wednesday evening, Macron said that contrary to common wisdom, he found Trump to be “very predictable,” which would suggest that he did not expect the American president to be swayed by his Gallic reason. He acknowledged that he expected Trump to opt out of the Iran nuclear deal, and his goal, Macron said, was to position himself as an “honest broker” for the aftermath.

If he achieves even that, it won’t be a bad outcome from the meeting. Macron’s goal from the outset of his presidency has been to assert France as the leader on global issues like climate change, European unity and resistance to right-wing nationalism and authoritarianism, and toward that end he has sought to forge comradely relations even with leaders who hold opposing views, whether by hosting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in the imperial splendor of Versailles or getting touchy-feely with Trump.

His trip to Washington was intended not only to court Trump but also to establish his credentials before the American public. A few days before his appearance on Capitol Hill, he had made a similarly ringing call on Europeans to defend democracy in a major speech before the European Parliament.

Whether Macron succeeds in his ambition is still very much in the air. Trump’s verdict on the speech to Congress is still out, and a Europe rent by internal divisions, German wariness and the approach of Brexit has not rallied to his colors. As Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted of the visit: “French Pres @EmmanuelMacron solidified his standing as leader of the West (to the extent there still is a West) by his call today before Congress for an updated liberal world order to meet regional, global challenges. His problem is a lack of partners in Europe and here in US.”

Hopefully, Macron’s trip to Washington will help alleviate that problem. The West is sorely in need of a leader who clearly proclaims: “What we cherish is at stake. What we love is in danger.”

Copyright 2023 New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.