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What the Bill Cosby verdict means in the #MeToo era

Bill Cosby was found guilty of charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia mansion. The jury's decision caps the comedian's spectacular downfall, who at age 80 faces the possibility of being sent to prison. John Yang talks with Manuel Roig-Franzia of The Washington Post and Soraya McDonald of The Undefeated.

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  • John Yang:

    Guilty. That was the verdict today on charges that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted a woman in 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia mansion. The jury's decision caps the spectacular downfall of Cosby, a barrier-breaking entertainer who, at age 80, now faces the possibility of being sent to prison. It came after a two-week retrial. Less than a year ago, Cosby's first trial ended with a deadlocked jury. Cosby walked slowly as he left the courtroom, still free on $1 million bail until sentencing.

    After the verdict, district attorney Kevin Steele said Cosby had preyed on women for decades.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

  • Kevin Steele:

    He used his celebrity, he used his wealth, he used his network of supporters to help him conceal his crimes. And now, we really know today who was behind that act, who the real Bill Cosby was.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

  • John Yang:

    The attorney for Cosby's accuser, Andrea Constand, spoke for her client.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

  • Dolores Troiani:

    I want to express on behalf, if I can, the gratitude of so many women who admire Andrea, for her courage. She came here 14 years ago for justice. I am so happy today that I can say that although justice was delayed, it was not denied.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

  • John Yang:

    Cosby's attorney Tom Mesereau vowed to fight on.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

  • Tom Mesereau:

    We are very disappointed by the verdict. We don't think Mr. Cosby is guilty of anything. And the fight is not over. Thank you.

  • Reporter:

    Are you going to appeal, sir?

  • Tom Mesereau:

    Yes. Yes, very strongly.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

  • John Yang:

    For more on the drama in the courtroom today and for the last two weeks, we're joined by Manuel Roig-Franzia of the "Washington Post." He is outside the courthouse.

    We should note for our viewers that Mr. Cosby used a vulgarity in the court today which we will not quote.

    Manuel, tell us a little bit about the drama of the verdict.

  • Manuel Roig-Franzia:

    It was an intensely emotional moment when the verdict was read. You heard an eruption of sobbing from the back of the courtroom. Those were two women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault but were not testifying. They were taken from the courtroom, but even when they were outside in the hallway, you could hear crying filtering through these big, heavy doors that lead into the room.

  • John Yang:

    And how did Cosby react?

  • Manuel Roig-Franzia:

    Cosby initially was stone-faced, but you could see this weariness, this defeat on his face. This is man who is 80 years old. He showed incredible stamina throughout the whole trial. But his eyes looked heavy, the lids heavy on them, and his face looked a little sunken. He stayed ridged at that moment.

    But when the jury left, he erupted. He erupted at the district attorney, Kevin Steele, suggesting that he might be a flight risk, and he just yelled out, as you said, telling him, I don't have a private plane, and he doesn't know.

  • John Yang:

    And he used a little stronger language than that, didn't he?

  • Manuel Roig-Franzia:

    He certainly did. It jarred the courtroom. They hadn't seen that kind of an outburst from Bill Cosby throughout this entire trial, and I think it's significant that the jury was not there to see this. The jury had left. They had made their decision. And now, he was face to face with the men who want to put him in prison, possibly for the rest of his life.

  • John Yang:

    Those are the prosecutors. You covered both trials, Manuel. How did this retrial differ from the first trial?

  • Manuel Roig-Franzia:

    There was one huge difference. In the first trial, the judge only allowed one previous accuser to testify. This time around the judge allowed the prosecution to call five different women who have accused Cosby of drugging them and in four cases of sexually assaulting them over the years, from the 1980s until the 2004, when Andrea Constand made her allegation of sexual assault.

    And these women testifying on the stand have something of a snowball effect. It gave a lot of momentum to the prosecution and they were able to leverage, that showing the jury that Bill Cosby was not just being accused by Andrea Constand in this complicated scenario in 2004, but that he had a pattern of behavior that was similar and consistent for decades.

  • John Yang:

    Was there any difference in the defense in the two cases, in the two trials?

  • Manuel Roig-Franzia:

    Big difference in the defense strategy. In the first trial, when Bill Cosby was represented by Brian McMonagle, a Philadelphia attorney, the defense was built around this idea that Bill Cosby and Andrea Constand were having a love affair. This time around, it was a much darker, much rougher defense. The defense was built around the idea that Andrea Constand was a con artist, that she had targeted Cosby as somebody that was wealthy, that she was madly in love with his money and his fame, and that she executed this plan to extort money from Bill Cosby, and the evidence of that was a lawsuit that she filed and settled for $3.4 million.

    I think one of the problems with that approach is that Andrea Constand came off on the stand as a somewhat naive, confused person, and she did not seem like the calculating sort of schemer who could have pulled one over on a wealthy man who was surrounded by powerful and aggressive attorneys, public relations agents, and other members of his entourage who were shielding him.

  • John Yang:

    And very quickly, Manuel, what do we know about sentencing?

  • Manuel Roig-Franzia:

    Sentencing is expected within 60 to 90 days. Bill Cosby is being required to stay at his house at Elkins Park not far from here, and he could face a maximum of 30 years in prison, which for man at the age of 80 is essentially a life sentence.

  • John Yang:

    Manuel Roig-Franzia of the "Washington Post," thanks so much.

  • Manuel Roig-Franzia:

    You're welcome.

  • John Yang:

    Today's verdict represents a collision of two cultural forces: the breakthrough African-American entertainer who starred in the family-oriented "Cosby Show" of the late '80s and early '90s, and the first high-profile trial of the "Me Too" movement.

    To examine that, we're joined by Soraya McDonald, culture critic for "The Undefeated".

    Soraya, thanks so much for joining us.

    This is — between the deadlocked trial of the first trial and today's conviction of course was the "Me Too" movement. Do you think that had an effect on the jury?

  • Soraya McDonald:

    I do. And I think what the effect of the "Me Too" movement was, was that — so, for years we have been hearing so many stories from Bill Cosby's accusers, right? We saw 35 women pictured on the cover of "New York" magazine with very similar stories.

    And the response that people kept giving was, why didn't these women come forward earlier? Why did they wait so long? There wasn't nearly the understanding of power dynamics and just how much control Bill Cosby could exude, like within the entertainment industry, and then when you saw this story happening over and over and over again with different powerful men starting with Harvey Weinstein and then Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer and all of these other high-profile men being accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault that had gone on for decades without the general public knowing about it, that definitely provided a really significant shock to people's understanding of sexual assault and sexual harassment and how victims process certain experiences and how long it can take sometimes for people to come forward.

  • John Yang:

    Do you think this will embolden and encourage more women to speak up?

  • Soraya McDonald:

    I think it will, because it says that there are consequences for this sort of behavior and there are legal and criminal consequences for this sort of behavior. One of the things that we know about rape and sexual assault is that it is severely underreported, and part of the reason for that is because the conviction rate is so low and because these trials can be such a horrible ordeal for so many survivors, because they are asked to relive not only some of the worst moments of their lives, but they're subject to cross-examination, and, you know, that can be a really rough experience when you're being told that you're a liar, that you're doing this to be self-serving, that you're in search of money or fame when all you're trying to pursue is some measure of justice.

  • John Yang:

    Soraya, and also the image of Bill Cosby himself, someone who had this very wholesome image, was something of a public moralizer for a while. What's the impact on this cultural moment of now having him convicted?

  • Soraya McDonald:

    So, I think the cultural impact is that going forward, we're going to be looking at our icons with maybe a little more skepticism than we normally would. You know, part of the tragedy of this, aside from the way so many of the women's lives have been upended by this man's actions is that there's a great deal of disappointment for a lot of people who thought of Bill Cosby as America's dad, and that's really understandable.

    And so, in processing that, I think we have to look at how much power and influence, you know, we ascribe to any one person, because part of that can contribute to this ultimate sort of betrayal and downfall that we're seeing now.

  • John Yang:

    Soraya McDonald of "The Undefeated", thanks so much for joining us.

  • Soraya McDonald:

    Thank you for having me.

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