Obama on Cosby: "No Tolerance for Rape"
It came near the end of an hour-long White House news conference devoted almost solely to the issue of Iran: President Obama was asked a carefully tailored three-part question about race, the criminal justice system, and Bill Cosby.
“Would you,” veteran White House correspondent April Ryan asked President Obama, “revoke the Medal of Freedom for Bill Cosby?”
Obama’s predecessor awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the nation’s most prestigious honors, to Cosby in 2002. At a ceremony in which he lauded several other highly accomplished Americans including baseball player Hank Aaron, business management guru Peter Drucker, and tenor Placido Domingo, George W. Bush said the following about Cosby:
“Bill Cosby is a gifted comedian who has used the power of laughter to heal wounds and to build bridges,” Bush said. “By focusing on our common humanity, Bill Cosby is helping to create a truly united America.”
Thirteen years later, the successful star’s reputation has unraveled amidst allegations that for three decades he drugged women without their knowledge in order to have sex with them. An online petition has been circulating calling on Obama to revoke the award. Two Democratic senators, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, have joined those calls.
Obama seemed to weigh his answer carefully, addressing the first two portions of Ryan’s query at length before tackling the issue of Cosby and rape. When he did, he spoke forcefully.
“There’s no precedent for revoking a medal,” Obama began. “We don’t have that mechanism, and as you know, I tend to make it a policy not to comment on the specifics of cases where there might still be criminal, if not civil, issues involved.”
Then he added the following: “If you give a woman—or a man, for that matter—without his or her knowledge a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape. And I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”
The president’s pointed reply came in the context of mounting allegations of sexual assault against Cosby. Earlier this month, the Associated Press pried documents out of a 2005 civil lawsuit against the celebrity. Those records revealed that Cosby admitted during a legal deposition to purchasing Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to women in order to have sex with them without their consent. Dozens of women have said in recent months that Cosby gave them drugs against their will and raped them.