Bill Cosby team’s PR move may be too late in court of public opinion
Bill Cosby’s legal team is not going to take it anymore.
Last week, a new public face appeared in Monique Pressley, defending the once-beloved comic performer now beleaguered by allegations of sexual assault from dozens of women. The Washington, D.C-based attorney, whose specialties include civil litigation, became the main legal spokesperson after a leaked 2005 deposition in which Cosby admitted he gave drugs to women with whom he wanted to have sex.
“There are a thousand-plus pages that are available of Mr. Cosby in his own words, and what we’re seeing so far are headlines that are grabbing one excerpt or two and misinterpreting them,” Pressley told ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week. “The deposition said that there was use of Quaaludes, which was done often in the ‘70s.”
Pressley enters the picture late in the game. In the last year, after decades-old allegations resurfaced and found a new force through social media, Cosby’s image as a wise, caring and loving father figure cultivated through his wildly popular stand-up act, books and TV roles has largely been obliterated. The alleged victims coming forward in the last year have grown from a handful to 40, with most claiming a similar scenario — being given drugs without their consent and then being sexually assaulted.
Cosby has denied all accusations in statements and the few brief exchanges he’s had with the news media. But before Pressley, the comedian did not have an authorized talking head aggressively defending him from a legal standpoint.
Public relations experts, however, contend that winning back public opinion will be an extraordinarily difficult if not impossible task at this point in the Cosby narrative. The damage inflicted upon the entertainer’s reputation since a comedy routine by Hannibal Buress last year may simply be too great to repair.
“I think he moved too slowly to change his strategy,” said Jason Maloni, a senior vice president at the crisis management firm Levick. “Where was Monique Pressley months ago when these accusations emerged? And it wasn’t simply one or two. More than a dozen women were recounting eerily similar patterns of behavior. That would have been a more effective time to go on offense. Right now, the public’s impression is made up. It’s a little late in the game to be punching back.”
Howard Bragman, chairman of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, also doesn’t believe Cosby has much to gain at this point. “I’m convinced Cosby is asking his legal team: ‘Why aren’t we fighting back?’” he said. “What I do think is when you’re getting attacked and have lots of resources — money — it feels better to fight back — even if it’s futile.”
Cosby’s image took another hit over the weekend as New York Magazine released a cover with the photographs of 35 of his accusers. While there was little new information in the story, the collective effect of the photos resonated across social media.
Pressley declined to discuss the circumstances under which she’d joined Patrick O’Connor, Martin Singer and other members of Cosby’s legal team, citing client confidentiality. But she made it clear about her intended role.
"[I want] people who are covering this to stick to the facts and not give more credit and more weight to allegations than is given to facts and reality concerning the legal issues,” she told The Times. “I always start by reminding people of what I think gets lost. My client has never been charged with a crime, never been convicted of a crime and, in light of the recent deposition excerpts, has never admitted to the commission of a crime.”
The 2005 deposition stems from a lawsuit filed by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand, who accused Cosby of drugging and molesting her. But Cosby said he gave her three Benadryl tablets before engaging in consensual sexual activities, according to the court documents.
The depositions in the case, settled out of court, are the only time Cosby is known to have responded to such claims against him while under oath.
Pressley said public defenses of Cosby have been a challenge for the legal team, because some of his accusers have filed defamation suits in response to the comedian’s denials.
While she said such suits rarely hold up in court, they can tie up resources and have an inhibiting effect on addressing the claims.
“The only thing I can equate that to is someone goes into a person’s house, sets it on fire, the person who owns the house comes in to put out the fire, and then gets sued for putting it out,” she said.
Pressley, who is also a motivational speaker, said she will assertively highlight information in court documents that supports her client but isn’t getting attention in the media. She cited the deposition in the Constand case as an example, even though the headlines it generated turned off Whoopi Goldberg, one of the few public supporters Cosby had left.
“The fact that that the deposition is out to me is not necessarily a negative,” Pressley said. “You see in there that Mr. Cosby denied any nonconsensual sex with any person, denied slipping someone a drug without their knowledge. He admitted that he had Quaaludes and someone chose to take one.”
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