In 2014, a viral video of a comedian calling Bill Cosby a rapist shocked everyone. Everyone, except his victims, and the journalist who tried to tell their story nearly a decade earlier.
I discovered the podcast Chasing Cosby much in the same way I discovered the truth about my former favorite comedian; anticlimactically.
In the infancy of viral videos, I remember clicking on a link that somebody shared on Facebook. While I don’t remember the exact wording of the link’s headline, I do remember it got right to the point that a comedian was calling Bill Cosby a rapist during a show in Philadelphia.
I watched the video of comedian Hannibal Buress talking about Cosby’s smugness, and the irony of how he was so quick to point out the flaws of fellow comedians and fellow African-Americans, yet he had been accused of rape. In one of the last lines of the video, Buress urges people to google “Bill Cosby rape”, adding that it “…has more results than Hannibal Buress.”
So at the behest of Mr. Buress, I googled “Bill Cosby rape”, and that’s how I discovered the truth about the man dubbed “America’s Dad”.
I would discover my favorite podcast I’ve listened to this year, in a similar fashion.
A simple picture of a hand pulling a single string, and unraveling a colorful sweater appeared on my Spotify suggestion during one morning commute. The words “Chasing Cosby” appeared underneath the picture and so I clicked it. Much like when I clicked that link back in 2014, once again everything I thought I knew about Bill Cosby changed.
I learned that the podcast was based on a book by the same name, and the producer/host of the podcast, Nicki Weisensee Egan, was also the author of the book. Furthermore, she was the first journalist to report on this Cosby scandal for the Philadelphia Daily News nine years before the viral video of Buress emerged.
Egan has had a long, award-winning career as an investigative journalist. After her time at the Philadelphia Daily News, Egan spent more than a decade as a senior writer at People magazine, where she conducted some of the publication’s most notable interviews. She is now focusing on being an author, having published the aforementioned Chasing Cosby and Victim F, scheduled to be released in 2021.
I was lucky enough to interview Ms. Egan about Cosby, her career, and what she might do next for this installment of “The 10 Spot”.
You were the first reporter to dig deeply into Bill Cosby’s sexual assault scandal back in 2005 for the Philadelphia Daily News. Was there any hesitation on your part to investigate the story? Do you remember the moment in your investigation when you were convinced that Cosby was guilty?
There was no hesitation on my part but my initial reaction was, “Not the Cos!” which is what we called him in Philly. I was a fan at the time and, as I write in the book, The Cosby Show got me through some rough times in my teen years. I grew up watching Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids on Saturday mornings with my older brother and used to quote from that cartoon all the time. But my job as a journalist is to push my personal feelings aside to cover the story, which is what I did. As I dug deeper and deeper I discovered how credible Andrea Constand was and when Tamara Green, a second woman came forward with a similar story, followed by 12 more it was clear to me they were telling the truth. Sadly, the DA at the time didn’t even let his own detectives finish their investigation before announcing he wasn’t going to prosecute Cosby. In fact, the detectives were taken by surprise by the DA’s announcement and had just met that morning and come up with a list of other leads to pursue.
You became a voice for Cosby’s accusers at a time when nobody else would. For people who may not remember life before “Me Too”, describe how difficult it was to believe women over a man as powerful and litigious as Bill Cosby. What personal struggles did you endure to bring light to the truth?
I was honestly shocked by the way the media protected Cosby. I was attacked and ridiculed by the media and the Philly Weekly even did a story attacking my stories-after I got an exclusive interview with the second woman to come forward, Tamara Green, and we put it on the cover. It’s when I also learned the phrase-“trading up.” I was on some of the evening news shows on MSNBC and Fox News and one of the bookers told me they were getting pressure from Cosby’s team not to have me on and used the phrase “trading up” – i.e. .giving up one interview to get a better one. It was new to me but rampant within the national media, particularly in TV. ABC did not really cover the criminal case except for one story where they cited a source saying Cosby’s account of what happened and Andrea’s account matched up except Cosby said it was consensual and Andrea said it wasn’t then, lo an behold, ABC gets an exclusive sit-down with him after attending one of his “town halls,” which you had to be invited to as a member of the media. When this story broke in January 2005, Cosby was in the midst of hosting a series of town halls in inner cities across the nation and you had to be invited to attend if you were media. In fact, when I first started covering the story his spokesman said to me, “We have to get you into one of these town halls.” That offer quickly vanished as my coverage got more aggressive but I know other media took him up on it. that was the “carrot” they dangle at first to get the media to back off of a story. Then comes the stick which, back then, was attorney Marty Singer, who began calling me and my newspaper threatening to sue us.
The real heat was put on Bill Cosby in 2014 after a video of comedian Hannibal Burress calling Cosby a rapist during a stand-up set went viral. This was almost a decade after your reporting. Were you surprised when the video sparked renewed interest in the Cosby case? When did it hit you that he wasn’t going to be able to escape the allegations this time around?
I was surprised. I watched it all unfold thinking to myself, “It’s deja vu all over again. I wrote about all of this in 2005 and nobody cared!” Nonetheless, I was glad to see it getting renewed attention and seeing the Cosby victims be treated kindly by the media instead of attacked like they were in 2005. Matt Lauer interviewed Tamara Green on the Today show and ridiculed her. Tamara said that night Jimmy Kimmel aired a clip of her interview and blanked out her words so she looked ridiculous. And Andrea’s name and photo began being used widely in the media, though media organizations traditionally do not publish the identity of an alleged sexual assault victim, let alone a photo, without the victim’s permission. And Andrea never gave her permission.
What made you decide to write the book Chasing Cosby? What made you decide to turn it into a podcast as well?
I address some of this in the Author’s Note of my book and in the Acknowledgments. I first thought about writing a book back in 2005 and reached out to an agent about it. He was interested but he was part of a husband and wife team and she did not want to dispel the Cliff Huxtable myth. I also started to realize the book would never have been published. Cosby had too much power and the publishing industry viewed him as very litigious, according to Judith Regan’s testimony at his second trial. In 2014, after the scandal exploded again, those same agents came back to me and wanted me to write a book but I was working full time and just did not have the time to do it. Nor did I think it would ever get published. Cosby still had too much power. And I’m glad I didn’t because a year later he was arrested so that book would have been obsolete by the time it came out. Of course by the time I was ready to write one, the story had been covered so much that there wasn’t much interest from publishers. That’s why I made my proposal from my point of view since I knew I was the only reporter who’d stuck with it for that long. Then Alex Zaslow, one of my former PEOPLE colleagues, reached out to me about doing a podcast based on the book and I was intrigued and agreed to do it. Now Arrow Productions has optioned the book and is hoping to do a docuseries so we shall see. Hollywood still seems reluctant to tackle this subject in any depth, like a docuseries, but the Cosby survivors deserve to have their voices heard. There were a few one-hour documentaries that were done after the scandal erupted again in 2014 but they were all one-hour ones and it’s just not possible to do this subject justice in one hour. I think that was the power of the podcast. The women told their stories at length so you could truly hear the horror of what happened to them and how it still affects some of them to this very day.
You have had a long, storied, award-winning career in journalism. Do you ever feel as if your reporting on Bill Cosby overshadows some of the other important journalistic work you’ve done?
No. In fact, I’m certain a lot of people don’t realize the depth of that reporting and that’s OK. I’ve never been in this for the glory. It’s always been about the truth for me. Cosby still has millions of followers on social media so I think many just don’t want to know. It’s easier for people to believe a Harvey Weinstein or a Jeffrey Epstein is guilty because most people had never heard of them before the scandals erupted. With Cosby it’s different. People thought they knew him and are reluctant to part ways with that image of him. But that’s why I’m so glad I wrote a book. If people are interested in finding out more, they know where to get the information.
Speaking of some of your other work, you spent over a decade writing for People magazine. You secured some exclusive, high-profile interviews, such as Drew Peterson. If you had to choose a favorite interview from your time at People, which one would you chose?
Oh that one’s easy. Sully Sullenberger!
Do you have a story or interview that you passed on, or missed out on and wished you hadn’t? Is there an “interview that got away?”
The national media is extremely competitive with everyone vying for the same big interviews so there were some I pursued that I did not get but overall I had a pretty great track record of getting exclusives in high profile cases-from Sully and the rest of the Flight 1549 crew to Drew Peterson to Tyler Clementi’s parents to Brittany Maynard, her husband and family to Andrew Madoff, the late eldest son of Bernie Madoff.
I read the op-ed piece you wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer about your journey up to the moment you first met Cosby victim Andrea Constand, 13 years after first reporting on her. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but after ready that, I came to the conclusion that the Cosby case had become personal to you as well. Would you say that’s accurate? If so, can you pinpoint the moment when it became personal to you?
It’s become personal in that I want to make sure the courage of the Cosby survivors is not forgotten. The #metoo movement pretty much overlooked them, which I write about in the book. It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to come forward against a revered, beloved public figure like Bill Cosby and many of the survivors experienced backlash for doing so. I put some of my personal feelings in my book, which was a struggle for me since for so long I’d shoved my personal feelings aside to cover the case as impartially as I could so I couldn’t go back to covering it as a news story. But that doesn’t mean I’m not following it.
What role, if any, do you think social media played in helping to finally bring Bill Cosby to justice?
It was crucial. Without it, I have no doubt Bill Cosby would be walking around a free man right now. He could control the media (except for me) but he could not control social media, and that made all of the difference.
Do you think society has learned to believe women after seeing how long it took for Bill Cosby to be brought to justice, or do you think we still have a long way to go before our first instinct is to believe women?
I think we still have a long way to go and it’s possible we’re going backward at times.
BONUS QUESTION: The Chasing Cosby podcast was excellent. You’re an excellent and accomplished interviewer. Have you given any thought to hosting an interview-style podcast?
I’ve been approached about doing more podcasts by different people and am trying to figure out what I want to do. My dream would be to host one that’s not scripted-ie an interview-style podcast! While I loved CHASING COSBY, reading from a script is not my thing. And it’s much harder than you’d think it is! That’s not to say I wouldn’t do another scripted project but that, yes, I’d love to do an interview-style podcast.
That’s it for this week’s 10 Spot. Special thank you to Ms. Egan for taking part this week. Be sure to read Chasing Cosby and listen to the podcast on all podcasting platforms. You can find more about Nicki Weisensee Egan at her website, and follow her on Twitter.