Phylicia Rashad clarifies comments in defense of Bill Cosby

Phylicia Rashad stands by Bill Cosby, but claims she was misquoted

Phylicia Rashad made headlines when she defended her embattled TV husband Bill Cosby and appeared to be dismissive of his accusers in an interview with Roger Friedman of Showbiz 411 published Tuesday.

But the actress, who starred as Cosby's wife in both the hugely popular NBC sitcom "The Cosby Show" and later in the CBS series "Cosby," is now claiming she was partially misquoted.

In the initial interview, Rashad seemed to suggest that Cosby, who has been accused of sexually assaulting numerous women over several decades, is the victim of a conspiracy. 

"Forget these women," Friedman said she told him. "What you're seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it's orchestrated. I don't know why or who's doing it, but it's the legacy. And it's a legacy that is so important to the culture."

“Someone is determined to keep Bill Cosby off TV,” she continued. “And it’s worked. All his contracts have been canceled.”

In a televised interview Wednesday with ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis Rashad continued to stand by Cosby but claimed she never said, "Forget these women," a line that struck many observers as flippant disregard for the alleged victims.

"I am a woman. I would never say that," she said. "That was a misquote. That is not what I said. What I said is this is not about the women - this is about something else. This is about the obliteration of a legacy."

For what it's worth, Friedman is backing up Rashad's claims, saying that while he did not technically misquote her as saying "forget these women," it was clear in their conversation that Rashad was being "conversational" and did not intend to appear dismissive of Cosby's accusers. He has since removed the "forget these women" line from the original interview.

While Rashad has clarified her initial comments, she did not back away from her defense of Cosby or from the theory that he is the victim of an orchestrated attack. 

When asked her initial response to the charges, Rashad recalled thinking, "Hmmm... someone has a vested interest in preventing Mr. Cosby's return to network television." (Before the allegations surfaced, Cosby had a comedy pilot in the works for NBC. It has since been dropped.)

Rashad also expressed dismay that the show's positive legacy, particularly its portrayal of a loving, stable and upwardly mobile black family, had been severely undermined by the charges.

"We're talking about a legacy that inspired a generation of young people to consider and pursue higher education," she said. "We're talking about a legacy that introduced and portrayed American culture in its diversity. It's difficult for me to watch this legacy be erased as if it never happened."

She also made it clear she had not been approached by Cosby or his handlers to speak out on his behalf, but said she had spoken to him in the early days of the scandal. "His comment then was, 'The Internet has given some anonymous people a very loud voice.'"

As for skeptics who suggest that Rashad has a personal stake in rehabilitating Cosby's image so that re-runs of the sitcom will return to air, she said simply, "Oh really? They don't understand how residuals go. The longer the show runs, the smaller the residual."

Rashad is not the only "Cosby Show" star to speak out on behalf of the comedian this week. Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played youngest daughter Rudy Huxtable on "The Cosby Show" and was fired from Sunday's "The Celebrity Apprentice" for failing to exploit her link to the funny man, told "Today's" Savannah Guthrie that the allegations did not square with the man she worked with for eight seasons. 

"You know, it's very much been played out in the court of public opinion," she said. "But we're still in America, where ultimately you're innocent until proven guilty. I wasn't there. That's just not the man I know. So I can't speak to it."

For the complete interview with Rashad, click here.

Follow @MeredithBlake on Twitter.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times