Sir Bedevere: What makes you think she’s a witch?
Peasant: Well, she turned me into a newt!
Sir Bedevere: A newt?
Peasant: I got better.
Crowd: Burn her anyway!
—Terry Jones as Sir Bedevere, and John Cleese as the Peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Let me start by saying this up front: if you do things like commit rape and murder, you should have to face the consequences, including going to jail (or, in appropriate cases, facing the death penalty).
But you really should have to be convicted of that crime first.
Over the last few weeks a number of women have been coming out of the woodwork to accuse actor/comedian Bill Cosby of committing various forms of sexual assault at various points in the increasingly distant past. The most recent is a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles telling an at least somewhat implausible tale of a 15 year old meeting Cosby on a movie set in 1974 along with her 16 year old friend. According to the lawsuit, Cosby invited the girls to his tennis club where he got them liquored up, then took them to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion and had the accuser perform sex acts on him.
The rather fanciful nature of the story raises obvious questions as to its veracity. And wealthy celebrities like Cosby make easy targets for those who might want to extort a settlement check, particularly 40 years after the fact when there is little evidence left except her word vs. his (there is a reason we have statutes of limitations). I note that the lawsuit comes not only 40 years after the alleged incident, but only after several others have made rape allegations against Cosby, giving this latest claim (and its accompanying demand to get paid) a certain “me too” piling-on quality. But giving this accuser and the others the benefit of the doubt, the most we can say at this point is that we don’t know whether the allegations are true.
And that’s the point, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping the punishment train from rolling out of the station. On Thursday the Navy announced that it was revoking the honorary title of Chief Petty Officer it bestowed on Cosby in 2011. This follows NBC’s and Netflix’s cancellation of projects with Cosby, cable’s TV Land yanking reruns of The Cosby Show, and Temple University pressuring Cosby to resign from its board of directors.
All because of allegations.
As of this writing, William H. Cosby, Jr. hasn’t been convicted of anything. He hasn’t been tried. He hasn’t even been charged. In point of fact, of the dozen or so women currently accusing Cosby, only one has even filed a civil lawsuit (it is worth noting that Cosby settled a lawsuit in 2006 brought by another woman making similar allegations). I admit the number of accusers suggests there may be something to the allegations, but that in itself is not evidence that any one of the allegations is true. Yet our modern politically-correct court of public opinion has already proceeded to the punishment phase.
And this is the disturbing trend in today’s world of instant internet news, where any accusation, innuendo, or rumor can go viral and become publicly entrenched as the “truth” before the actual evidence has a chance to emerge. Worse, even when that evidence does emerge, too many allow their emotions to be manipulated to the point that they are unwilling or unable to look at it and distinguish reality from the false narrative pushed by those with other agendas.
Witness the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.
By now you know the meme: racist white cop guns down an unarmed black teen affectionately known as the “gentle giant” in cold blood (and possibly in the back) while the child had his hands up in an effort to surrender. This was the story initially and continually pushed by the media, and egged on by the usual professional race-baiting, grievance-mongering crowd. It quickly became the public truth, and thus Officer Darren Wilson was convicted of murder in the court of public opinion within hours of the shooting.
But as John Adams once observed, facts are stubborn things.
The grand jury—which actually had and looked at the evidence—saw things differently. Michael Brown, the so-called “gentle giant,” was videotaped physically assaulting a shop owner while in the course of robbing the store minutes before the shooting. Brown’s blood and DNA were on Wilson’s squadcar door handle, inside the car, and on Wilson’s gun, all of which supports Wilson’s story that Brown initially attacked him in the car and attempted to get Wilson’s gun when Wilson shot him the first time. Three reviews of the autopsy—including one highly-publicized third review by a medical examiner hired by Brown’s family that, once conducted, quietly went away—all found wounds indicating that Brown was neither shot in the back (as first reported), nor with his hands up; they showed wounds consistent with charging forward, head down, as if to tackle. Significantly, the autopsy results were not only consistent with Officer Wilson’s story, but also with the testimony of several black eyewitnesses who said Brown was charging at Wilson. Based on this evidence, the grand jury declined to indict Officer Wilson. But because the “truth” of what happened had already been established, the evidence didn’t matter.
The court of politically-correct public opinion had once again already moved on to sentencing. Hence we now have protestors and even members of Congress running around blindly (ignorantly?) holding their hands in the air chanting “hands up, don’t shoot,” even though the testimony of black eyewitnesses and the physical evidence have fully discredited that version of events; in other words, the incontrovertible fact is that Michael Brown did not have his hands up when he was shot, but that fact is irrelevant to the protesters’ perception of the truth.
Other geniuses claim they just want “justice,” and to that end we needed to have a trial so all the facts could come to light. To one who says that I say fine, let’s start by putting you on trial for murder. You will undoubtedly react with righteous indignation and say there’s no reason to put you on trial, because there is no reason to suspect you committed murder. To which I say:
Exactly. There is no reason to put a man on trial when there is no reason to suspect he has committed a crime.
A grand jury doesn’t operate on the familiar “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for conviction in a criminal trial. It operates on a standard of “probable cause.” And it’s a one-sided affair in favor of the prosection; the accused has no lawyer there to cross-examine witnesses, and does not get to put on a defense (yes, I know Officer Wilson got to testify, and that that’s unusual, but that’s neither totally unheard of (defendants generally don’t testify because they are invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, not because they can’t) nor is it the same thing as presenting a defense case). Yet despite a low threshold and a tilted playing field, the grand jury refused to indict; in other words, it wasn’t even close.
Under those circumstances, there is no more reason to put Wilson to the expense and anguish of a trial than there is anyone else. But the myopic “justice seeker,” just like the race-baited protestor, isn’t interested in facts, because he has already established the truth in his own mind, evidence be damned.
It is a dangerous place where allegations alone warrant skipping past trial and conviction and moving straight to sentencing. It is more dangerous still when allegations and rumor trump undeniable facts.
I have no idea whether Bill Cosby committed rape. But rather than send him directly to be flogged at the pillory in the town square, perhaps we should take a deep breath and see what the evidence of the facts is first.