Gavin Polone on Bill Cosby and Hollywood's Culture of Payoffs, Rape and Secrecy (Guest Column)
The town scorns Mel Gibson, boycotts the Polo Lounge but supports child rapist Roman Polanski?! The producer writes about the warped way the industry — and media — ignores sexual assault
This story first appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Most of us agree that Bill Cosby did these bad things. I have been falsely accused of stuff that I absolutely did not do, so I tend to be more skeptical of these kinds of accusations than your average person. But the volume and consistency of the reports, and the lack of any explanation from Mr. Cosby, have settled the issue for me and, I think, for most.
Now what? Continue to vilify Cosby? Sure, he's awful, but he's also 77 years old and his career and ability to victimize is over. So let's turn to the probability that there are other victimizers in the entertainment business who use their power, influence and money to escape justice for their crimes and continue to commit them. We as a community need to use this situation with Cosby as a provocation for change and then collectively do something about others who should be stopped now.
Those of us who become involved directly or indirectly with sex abuse or rape need to push for them to be treated as crimes, not just business problems, meaning they need to be publicly reported and adjudicated. We must end the culture of payoffs and secrecy. I'm not talking about situations where someone uses abusive language or makes bawdy jokes. I'm not talking about inappropriate consensual relationships. I'm talking about actual violence and unwanted physical violation. If something like that occurs in a workplace, or elsewhere, we should all push to see it investigated by law enforcement and not settled quietly with a payment and a confidentiality agreement. When that happens, rich men like Cosby are basically shown that they can just write a check for the opportunity to satisfy their grotesque impulses. And, when these crimes are exposed, the community needs to take a strong position showing that it is not OK to sexually violate another person. I can't understand how Mel Gibson can be run out of the business for making racist comments and the Polo Lounge can be boycotted because its owner supports laws against the LGBT community — two actions I support — and yet 200 members of the film community signed a petition supporting Roman Polanski, a man who drugged and had anal sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Things get more difficult when we think we know about someone doing wrong but we don't have clear evidence of such. In the early years of Cosby's run of wickedness, there were probably people who thought something bad was going on but didn't know for sure. Before Michael Jackson was reported to police for his seemingly inappropriate interactions with children, there were many around him who saw or heard of his bizarre behavior. There was an accuser, threats of exposure and a large payoff and confidentiality agreement. Maybe Jackson was innocent, but I believe he wasn't. I think those around him with a financial stake in his continued success probably ignored what was going on and enabled him. If so, that is truly disgusting.
I'm not calling for a post-Cosby witch hunt of those who might be sexual abusers. But we can't wait until there are so many victims that it becomes undeniable. Of course, anyone walking into a police station telling of things "they've heard from friends of friends but don't know for sure" will get nowhere. And really serious accusations should only be made to law enforcement when there is more direct evidence. But who should be responsible to look for this evidence of very bad things? I'm not sure there is only one answer, but the media that covers the entertainment industry is definitely one of them.
Recently, David Carr in The New York Times and Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic wrote pieces expressing their regret at not having done their job when writing about Cosby. Carr never asked Cosby about his accusers in a Q&A, and Coates glossed over the issue in a piece in The Atlantic, even though he had already come to the conclusion that "Bill Cosby was a rapist." Both of these writers in their commendable mea culpas pointed to their own self-interests as the reason for not having done a better job when it came to Cosby. I am confident that it was "self-interest" that not only restrained the entertainment media as a whole from investigating Cosby thoroughly, as they have recently, but also Jackson and others.
For years, I've heard rumors of one specific powerful person who is said to have sexually accosted and/or raped women and who has used his power and money to keep it all quiet. Many influential people have heard the same stories, and I think most actually believe them. I also remember being told by someone I knew that she was chased around a hotel room by this same individual but that he didn't catch her. Ultimately, she laughed the whole thing off, which I found surprising.
As I said, I am always skeptical about rumors — for instance, I don't believe that any celebrity has ever had a gerbil up his or her ass — but I believe this specific one because, like with Cosby, the stories I've heard are consistent and because a person I think to be truthful told me her firsthand account. Still, even though many believe this man to be an offender, nothing has ever come out about him and he has faced no consequences. While I could be wrong, I don't believe any journalist has ever investigated these accusations or even asked this man if they have any basis in reality.
I would bet that editors and writers at all of the trade publications and other organizations that report on show business have heard these rumors, too. The reason journalists haven't explored this particular story is likely the result of, again, self-interest. They're probably afraid — afraid of being sued and more afraid of losing advertising. Ads from the companies that these publications and websites cover are a huge revenue source for all who publish news about show business. I get that it is expensive to operate a general news or trade outlet, and it probably takes some compromise to keep the revenue flowing, but we're not talking about killing a bad review of a movie or doing a puff piece about how a senior vp has been elevated to co-executive senior vp. This is about sickening illegality, and what we can derive about the Cosby situation is that powerful men who apparently can buy their way out of the repercussions of their transgressions will keep committing them. Sure, if women were willing to come forward, news organizations would be happy to interview them, but, as we've seen with the Cosby situation, it often takes an investigation and the reporting of surrounding facts — like repeated settled lawsuits or other witness testimony — to make victims comfortable enough to talk in public.
So, I'm asking that any news organization that reports on the industry, and specifically The Hollywood Reporter, which I consider the best of them, to put someone good on this story and find out if the rumors are true. And if these rumors are based in fact and crimes have been committed, to expose those crimes, without concern for how it will affect them financially. Because there is a lot more to lose here than money.
Gavin Polone is a film and television producer and frequent contributor to The Hollywood Reporter.