Whither news?
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Whither news?

Bill Cosby and the Trilogy of Corruption

What you see above is a dummy cover I produced for market-testing Entertainment Weekly before its launch. The cover never appeared in public, except as a small thumbnail on junk mail sent by Time Inc. to not very many homes to measure interest in this possible new magazine I’d proposed. Even so, Bill Cosby got hold of the image and — at great expense, in those days before Photoshop — had a production house airbrush out type and images with a new cover billing: “KISS JARVIS GOODBYE.” He sent this to me after I walked out of Entertainment Weekly.

Bill Cosby didn’t like me. Today, I take that as a badge of honor. I have two other pieces of hate mail from him framed in my office. Back then, I thought it was rather a pity. For I had liked The Cosby Show when it began and gave it rave reviews. I gave him credit for proving to white mass media that a black man could make a hit TV show. I also gave him credit for rescuing the form of the sitcom, which then we being declared almost dead. And as silly as this sounds, I even gave him credit for making having a family look like fun and helping me decide to have one myself.

But then, as the seasons wore on, I wrote reviews in People complaining, as many people did, that Cosby had turned preachy and his show boring. He hated that. Nobody criticizes Bill Cosby.

Today, thanks to the courage of his 60 accusers, we see Cosby for what he is: a rapist and an asshole. He is the embodiment of corruption. Power corrupts. Wealth corrupts. Fame corrupts. Cosby was corrupted by all three, just like Donald Trump, like Harvey Weinsten, like Matt Lauer, like….

That test cover above is an artifact from a time capsule. Cosby is back in the news (and we’re kissing him goodbye). Roseanne is back on TV in a bizarro form. Candice Bergen is returning as Murphy Brown. If Cosby weren’t on his way to prison, I’ll bet there’s a good chance we’d be seeing a return of his show. Are we suddenly nostalgic for the early ’90s, for life before the web? Do we dream of some apparently innocent time before learning what corrupt souls Bill Cosby — not to mention Roseanne Barr (and now Tom Brokaw) — could be? In that cover, I called those “kinder, gentler days” that were being superseded by “brash and brainy women.” (So kill me: I adore alliteration.) Well, it took almost three decades, but that prophecy is finally coming true. But I would add one more “b” to the alliteration describing the women who defeated him: Brave.

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Jeff Jarvis

Jeff Jarvis

Blogger & prof at CUNY’s Newmark J-school; author of Geeks Bearing Gifts, Public Parts, What Would Google Do?, Gutenberg the Geek