As we enter the Thanksgiving week (traditionally a slow news time) the public relations crisis confronting comedian, Bill Cosby continues to escalate and will very likely dominate much of the holiday news cycle. Sixteen women have come forward alleging that Cosby, who has long been an American icon, sexually assaulted or even raped them, often drugging them during the encounters. Cosby has refused to address the issue claiming he doesn’t respond to innuendos. His attorney has claimed that many of the allegations which are decades old are being raised with the intent to get money from Cosby.
Yet Cosby’s refusal to address the allegations is not stopping the damage to his brand among the public and the television networks. NBC which had aired the Cosby Show in the 1990s, (a show that made his character, Dr. Cliff Huxtable, one of the most popular television dads ever) announced it was cancelling plans for a 2015 sitcom with Cosby. TV Land pulled reruns of the Cosby Show from their schedule. Netflix announced that a comedy special that they had taped with Cosby to air on November 28th had been postponed indefinitely. Several venues where Cosby was to perform his comedy routine cancelled his appearances. Among the public is a growing perception that Cosby’s silence is a tacit admission.
Damage has been done to the Cosby brand. At this point in his career, these allegations will remain attached to his brand and his legacy unless totally disproven.
So what if anything can Cosby do?
If these allegations are totally baseless, he must address them head on. A spokesperson issuing a blanket denial or a general denial by Cosby himself will not be sufficient. He or his spokesperson must refute each allegation in detail. Nothing else will satisfy the media, sponsors, networks, and the public. The allegations are so devastating that only a detailed response disproving them will stop the firestorm. This means that if Cosby had sex with the women but it was consensual it must be addressed. Cosby has to recognize that unless he can absolutely disprove the allegations his reputation will be tarnished.
If there is any validity to these allegations, Cosby still has to address them and beg for forgiveness. Then he needs to cancel all appearances and realize his career as he knew it is over.
Or he can continue to remain silent. Under such circumstances he should cancel appearances at colleges where violence against women is a major issue as the image of Cosby speaking there when under this could is totally inappropriate.
Silence though in the long term will not work for Cosby. Brands and celebrities should learn from Cosby on what not to do. Not addressing a crisis either by denying it or accepting responsibility and asking forgiveness is seen as an admission of guilt. Silence also creates a greater media firestorm and crisis as Cosby is finding out. The longer that Cosby stays silent the longer the media will address this story.