Bill Cosby’s alleged mistreatment of young women has permanently ruined his reputation as the family man of television comedy and as a leader of the African-American community whose popularity and reasonableness crossed all racial and ethnic lines.
If the allegations against him are true, the blame for each and every incident falls on Cosby alone. As almost everyone agrees, the young women involved were clearly the victims.
Cosby’s modus operandi was to lure the women with friendly advice, offering a potential mentoring relationship and even indicating that acting roles or creative positions might be available in productions in which he starred or produced. These offers had substantial credibility because of Cosby’s immense power within the television industry and the personal wealth and fame he accumulated as one of the medium’s most dominant stars. For impressionable young women, inexperienced in the ways of Hollywood yet understanding that true opportunities were in short supply, Cosby’s offers were over- whelming in their apparent generosity and thoughtfulness. The consensus opinion of Cosby’s guilt and his victims’ innocence formed quickly and with near complete unanimity, as well it should have.
Why then does Monica Lewinsky continue to be pilloried in the media, and in particular criticized by the very feminists and supporters of women’s rights who now rally to the cause of the Cosby victims?
Lewinsky’s mentor was someone with the ability to do a lot more than secure a minor role in a television show. Serving under the most powerful man in the world, who offered to open that world to her, was certainly at least as overwhelming as the lure which attracted Cosby’s victims.
The specifics of each situation vary, but at essence Lewinsky and Cosby’s accusers were all the victims of very powerful older men. Some observers want to parse the differences, pointing out that many of Cosby’s victims believe they were drugged and that Cosby forced his way well beyond anything consensual. However, something made Cosby’s victims place themselves in compromising positions where Cosby had control. They were well-manipulated to a point where the completion of Cosby’s goals apparently was not difficult. Whatever the facts of each event, neither they, nor Lewinsky, can be blamed for the end result. As anyone knows who as a parent has watched daughters grow up, or has been a trusted teacher or mentor to young female adults, young women aged 18-24 are all about two things: hopes and dreams. Consumer advertising openly plays to this with considerable success. For men with the power and charisma of Bill Cosby or Bill Clinton, it is much less of a challenge.
In Lewinsky’s case her emotional untethering by President Clinton led her immediately into the grasp of two more older people also more than happy to take advantage of her. Both Linda Tripp, who pretended to be her confidant in order to betray her, and special investigator Kenneth Starr used their wiles born of long experience to make Lewinsky do things which in retrospect she likely would not have done. Lewinsky then had the further indignity of her former boyfriend in California being compelled by Starr to turn over to the investigation personal photographs, letters, souvenirs and gifts Lewinsky had sent him during her time at the White House.
Despite this, the criticism of Lewinsky remains vicious. Just last month CNN.com published a piece entitled “Shame on Monica Lewinsky” in which the writer, 32-year-old Timothy Stanley, portrays Lewinsky as an evil protagonist and states that the primary victim was Clinton’s wife Hillary. At the time of the actual scandal, Stanley was all of fifteen years old. Hillary herself was quoted by her friend Diane Blair as calling Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony toon,” a characterization which Mrs. Clinton has never denied.
The difference now of course between the two Bills is that one of them is a pathetic has-been but the other is a potential king-maker whose full talents will be very much in need if Hillary is to make it to the Oval Office herself in 2016.
Indeed, 2016 is where the proper re-classification of Monica Lewinsky may come in to play. Hillary’s hurdle, as it was against Barack Obama in 2008, will be her authenticity. In light of the Cosby revelation and the attendant focus on the vulnerability of young adult women to powerful older men, will Hillary’s continued refusal to acknowledge Lewinsky as a legitimate victim serve as the defining example of her rehearsed, unnatural and often forced public persona?
That persona’s contrast with her husband’s boundless comfort in almost all situations only further complicates things for her.
Imagine Hillary being asked a question about Bill Cosby and whether Cosby’s victims and Monica Lewinsky were equally blameless. Then imagine Hillary answering by saying that, although she was hurt and angry at Lewinsky, with the passing of time, and watching her own daughter come of age, she now recognizes that Monica lacked adequate defenses against such a powerful man and that she was certainly a victim as much as Cosby’s victims were.
If you are a Hillary supporter, you should hope what we imagined above comes true – it could be exactly what proves she can be a true leader and worthy of our votes. In that case the other Bill might be the one to whom Hillary will owe the most gratitude.
Keith Danko November 26, 2014