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New attention and consequences for rape allegations against Bill Cosby

NBC scrapped development of a new Bill Cosby show, Netflix postponed the release of a new comedy special and TV land canceled his reruns in light of new and renewed accusations by five women that the comedian sexually assaulted them. Sharon Waxman of The Wrap joins Gwen Ifill to discuss the allegations and the power of social media in driving this media firestorm.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now: the growing fallout surrounding one of America's most famous comedians.

    Bill Cosby, caught up in a swirl of decades-old rape allegations, has been dropped from two high-profile projects. NBC, home of his popular '80s sitcom, announced it will not proceed with the pilot for a proposed new family series. And Netflix announced it's postponing the premiere of a new comedy special tied to his 77th birthday.

    At least five women have come forward recently describing episodes of alleged sexual assault they said have been ignored before. Cosby has denied some and refused to comment on others.

    Sharon Waxman, the editor-in-chief of The Wrap, an entertainment news Web site, joins us now.

    Sharon, just since we started talking about this, it's clear the cable program — the cable network TV Land announced they are pulling reruns of "The Cosby Show," which, as you know, are pretty ubiquitous on television, on cable right now. How significant is it that all of these people are jumping off the Cosby ship?

  • SHARON WAXMAN, TheWrap.Com:

    It's hugely significant.

    Bill Cosby has been one of our most beloved and I would say rather untouchable icons for decades. And in the space of a week-and-a-half, all of a sudden, that seems to be crumbling before our very eyes.

    And just in the last 24 hours, the decisions that you cited, by NBC dropping a show that it was developing, a series with Cosby, and Netflix dropping a stand-up special, and now TV Land pulling reruns, this is an — it's another case of the incredible power of social media, because that is where this started. These allegations have been around for many years.

    A lot of us probably didn't want to hear them, didn't really want to pay attention to them. And in the span of days, this became un-ignorable.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It seems like there are two pieces to this. One is the charges and the other is the business impact. How significant is it that NBC, which was his home for so many years — and you tell me how this works when you get a development deal with a network — how much of a business impact is it for them to pull out? How much money do they lose and what does he lose?

  • SHARON WAXMAN:

    Well, I don't think there's any significant business impact on NBC. They're constantly developing shows. And so — and they constantly make pilots that don't — or they will even air six — two episodes of something.

    You know how the — the high-stakes game, and the percentages of shows that actually make it to air are very low, but you're talking about Bill Cosby, so that would be a high-profile project. There would be a lot of eyes trained on that, and the expectation would be that it would be good, because his show is on the air for — different versions, "Cosby, "The Bill Cosby Show," were are on the air for so many years.

    But there is no — in the development stage, it's not a significant impact. What is the impact to Bill Cosby? Probably something, yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, these women, it seems like a different one has come forward every day to make very similar charges to one another.

  • SHARON WAXMAN:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Is this — how damaging is it, his response, or, I should say, non-response, how damaging has it been?

  • SHARON WAXMAN:

    His lack of response.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes.

  • SHARON WAXMAN:

    Well, I think that that's sort of what — I think that's what everybody is wondering.

    If there's no truth to it, then why doesn't Bill Cosby come out and say this? But I really am of two minds about this. On the one hand, it is absolutely damaging that when NPR asked Bill Cosby a question, who's been out and about quite a lot on the media circuit lately because he's been promoting a book, which is he — why this sort of deer-in-the-headlights moment came, when he thought he was out there promoting a book and the NPR questioner asked him about these allegations, which were backed up by an op-ed in The Washington Post by one of his accusers, and he just said nothing.

    And then he asked him again, and he came back with nothing. That just right there seemed to speak volumes about something. But on the other hand, I want to say that I have covered so many of these media firestorms that now, you know, spin up in a matter of hours sometimes because of the power of Twitter and because of the power of Facebook.

    And sometimes there is nothing to them, or sometimes these are nuanced cases, and sometimes there are people who are fabricating things, and sometimes there are some people who are telling the truth. And it's very, very hard to know. And if you're accused of that, it's really hard to give a reasonable, cogent explanation in the face of a firestorm, which is what Bill Cosby is facing right now.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You know, full disclosure, the "NewsHour" interviewed him for the promotion of his Washington, D.C., art exhibit of his, loaner art exhibits, he and his wife, and — just last week.

    So, yes, he has been out there a lot. But I wonder how much of this still has a legal impact and how much of this is a P.R. impact at this stage.

  • SHARON WAXMAN:

    Well, the P.R. impact is absolutely devastating.

    He's wall-to-wall news on CNN right now, and we as a news site have been covering him heavily and our stories are all over Yahoo! and very, very big Web sites are picking up our stories and stories of sites like ours that cover entertainment journalistically.

    So that's very, very bad for him from a P.R. standpoint. I want to remind you, so what happened really with this story is that it started — Bill Cosby himself ended up inadvertently putting fuel on the fire on this, because as part of his promotional tour, he invited people on Twitter, he or the team that works for him, on Twitter to come up with a Bill Cosby meme, and to — and the idea was to sort of do fun and have jokes around the Bill Cosby as we have always known him.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes.

  • SHARON WAXMAN:

    And it totally backfired.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Right.

  • SHARON WAXMAN:

    And people starting memeing things about rape. And that is what I think set it to — got it to a critical mass, got attention to this issue to a critical mass.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Sharon Waxman of The Wrap, thanks for helping us out.

  • SHARON WAXMAN:

    Thanks, Gwen.

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