(CNN) — It was not the sort of meme Bill Cosby wanted to generate.
On Monday, the comedian — or whomever was in charge of his social media — put out a challenge with a jovial picture of Cosby in a cap: “Go ahead. Meme me! #cosbymeme.”
The Internet immediately reacted, but probably not in the way Cosby expected.
“Claire, have you seen my … nevermind, found my raping hat!” tweeted Trill Withers over the cap picture.
“My two favorite things (–) Jell-O pudding & rape,” tweeted E.J. Coughlin over a photo of Cosby smiling.
“Look at this wacky shirt I’m wearing (–) also I am a serial rapist,” tweeted Jason Steele over a picture of a thumbs-up Cosby in a patterned shirt.
By nightfall, Cosby’s original tweet had been pulled from the Web, which led to this conclusion from Jensen Karp: “If anyone is looking for a job, the Social Media Manager position for @BillCosby is about to open up.”
But if Cosby’s social media manager has gone underground, in the Internet age — where nothing ever goes away — the rape allegations, which Cosby has repeatedly denied, have stubbornly remained in the open.
In late October, comedian Hannibal Buress bluntly attacked what he perceived as Cosby’s “smuggest old black man public persona” by saying, “Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches. ‘I don’t curse onstage.’ Well, yeah, you’re (a) rapist, so I’ll take you saying lots of m*****f*****s on ‘Bill Cosby: Himself’ if you weren’t a rapist.”
A couple weeks later, Cosby was booked on Queen Latifah’s talk show, but the allegations reportedly gave the staff “cold feet,” according to TMZ. Cosby’s booking was “postponed at his request,” the website reported in an addendum. (Cosby did do interviews with Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon without incident.)
Now comes the social media fiasco.
For years, Cosby has denied the rape allegations. In February, after Newsweek ran an interview with one of the purported victims, Tamara Green, Cosby’s representative said, “This is a 10-year-old, discredited accusation that proved to be nothing at the time, and is still nothing.”
Nine years ago, when Green was interviewed by Matt Lauer on the “Today” show, his lawyer issued a statement: “Miss Green’s allegations are absolutely false. Mr. Cosby does not know the name Tamara Green or (maiden name) Tamara Lucier and the incident she describes did not happen. The fact that she may have repeated this story to others is not corroboration.”
In the case of Andrea Constand, who sued Cosby in 2005 over an incident the year before, Cosby says the sex was consensual.
CNN has reached out to Cosby’s representative for comment on this story, but has yet to hear back.
Lawsuit airs allegations
At the time of Constand’s lawsuit, Cosby had been in the news for a sexual affair once before. In 1997, a woman named Autumn Jackson claimed to be Cosby’s love child. Cosby admitted to a relationship with Jackson’s mother but denied paternity. Jackson was later convicted of extortion.
However, it wasn’t until Constand’s lawsuit in 2005 that the comedian was accused of rape.
Constand, a staffer for Temple University’s women’s basketball team, said in her suit that Cosby — a Temple alum — had become a mentor to her in the months since they met in 2002. In early 2004, he invited her to his house in suburban Philadelphia. Constand told Cosby she was feeling stressed and Cosby gave her three blue pills, which he described as “herbal medication,” according to her suit, which was posted on The Smoking Gun.
Then, her “knees began to shake, her limbs felt immobile, she felt dizzy and weak, and she began to feel only barely conscious,” the suit continued. Cosby then gave her another drug, she said, and led her to the sofa, where she says she was sexually molested.
“When Plaintiff awoke, her clothes and undergarments were in disarray,” the suit said.
Constand later returned to her native Canada, where she reported the incident to police. Authorities in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, followed up with an investigation, but at the end of February declined to press criminal charges due to a lack of evidence.
Cosby’s lawyer, Walter M. Phillips Jr., told CNN the allegations were “utterly preposterous” and “plainly bizarre,” but Cosby later acknowledged his role in the situation.
“Looking back on it, I realize that words and actions can be misinterpreted by another person, and unless you’re a supreme being, you can’t predict what another individual will do,” he told the National Enquirer in March 2005. “I’m not saying that what I did was wrong, but I apologize to my loving wife, who has stood by my side for all these years, for any pain I have caused her. These allegations have caused my family great emotional stress.”
Constand filed her civil suit in March 2005. Constand’s lawyers said they found 13 Jane Doe witnesses with similar stories. However, Constand’s suit was settled in November 2006, and the witnesses were never called. Terms have not been disclosed.
As Mark Whitaker’s recent Cosby biography makes clear, the man has his demons. He had affairs while on the road and there have been bumps in his long marriage to his wife, Camille.
But Whitaker, a former CNN managing editor, told CNN that he didn’t feel comfortable airing the rape allegations.
“Basically, I knew that I was going to have to be very careful in what I said about his private life. I felt that way as a journalist and also for legal reasons,” he said in an interview about the biography.
“In the case of these other allegations, basically because there were no definitive court findings, no independent witnesses, it didn’t meet my standard for what I was going to put in the book.”
“I also was very aware that if I just did a she said-he said, and I printed allegations and denials without my own independent reporting, first of all it’s not really in the spirit in the book, but also every person who then reviewed or reported on the book would be free to repeat those unconfirmed allegations just because they were in my book. And I just didn’t feel comfortable being responsible for that.”
Still, the rape allegations are always just a mouse click away.
Not long after Constand’s accusations hit the media, Tamara Green went public with her claims on “Today.” A few months later, another Jane Doe, Beth Ferrier, also spoke out. A third woman, Barbara Bowman, came forward in 2006. Green and Bowman both gave interviews to Newsweek in early 2014.
How all the controversy has affected Cosby personally is unknown. He’s still scheduled to star in an NBC sitcom next year, and his skills as a comedian appear undiminished. Last year’s concert movie, “Far From Finished,” earned mostly positive reviews, and his recent comedy tour has also received praise. On Saturday night, he appeared at the New York Comedy Festival and played to an appreciative crowd.
“Over the course of a non-stop two hours, he proves himself yet again to be an extraordinarily skilled storyteller, a performer who is acutely aware of his audience and in full of control of the room from start to finish,” wrote the Guardian’s Elise Czajkowski.
But his once-sterling reputation has taken a hit. The Washington Post, Salon and The New York Times have all mentioned the rape allegations in stories, criticizing Cosby to varying degrees.
And comedian Buress, who later talked about the Cosby allegations on Howard Stern’s radio show, said at a St. Louis show that he had asked fellow comedian Dave Chappelle for advice. Chappelle told Buress to talk to Cosby, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
But then Chappelle watched the Buress video.
Maybe it’s not a good idea after all, he said.