On Saturday, the Cosby trial ended in a jury deadlock. On June 14, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a column by Christine Flowers about Cosby’s trial. I have just finished reading it for the fifth time.
It’s unclear what Cosby’s eventual legal fate will be. But Flowers’ standing, in a journalistic sense, is very clear. Send Columbus back to his cell in Spain: I too have found a new world. Flowers’ piece is arguably the lowest a column can go.
From now on, for me, Flowers’ Cosby take is going to stand as the perfect embodiment of petty, self-pleased wickedness in opinion writing. It’s that she’s actively indifferent to ethical questions. Even if Cosby is one day proven guilty, she doesn’t care.
Flowers has a long history of coddling the red-handed and privileged. “Overall, the man was a giant, and the people yapping at his heels were moral dwarves,” she wrote of Joe Paterno. In a column on Milo Yiannopoulos, she began by saying “I’ve often thought that some of the most vocal critics of child abuse really didn’t care as much as they pretended to care about abused and neglected children.” Critics of the Catholic Church, she wrote, thought “Digging up decades-old scandals was an effective way of sticking it to the institution that opposed abortion and homosexual sex.”
Her goal in the Cosby column—defend Bill—is baleful, but the way she does it is somehow worse. The reasoning behind her defense is so appallingly shitty, I’m surprised the state hasn’t swooped in and clubbed her for environmental violation. May God strike me dead if I am exaggerating how terrible this writing is. When you consider this Cosby column was written by someone who also gifted the world with the predictable whine-fests of “Can’t pretend London attacks weren’t about Islam” and “Cold shoulder from alma mater — for conservative views? — is definitely chilling,” she has outdone herself. I don’t usually incline to the let’s-refute-this-line-by-line school of thinking, but sipping a few draughts from this Drano tub is unfortunately necessary. The column is titled “Cosby taking the hit for men who’ve wronged women.” Flowers would defend public execution, if it shortened her commute. Here is how this ballad for the ages opens:
The jury is deliberating, and all we know at this point is that no one will be happy when the verdict is returned. We don’t know the answer to the question “guilty or not guilty?” but we know that the six or nine words will not be enough to put an end, a coda, to one of the saddest stories that has been spun about a man who made us laugh. The debates, the doubts, the recriminations will go on long after the lawyers put their papers back in their briefcases and shuffle, slowly, out of the courtroom.
“What is truth? Nothing is true. We can debate it all day long. Isn’t life a funny riddle?”
If I had my way, we’d never come to verdict on this case. The greatest damage has already been done, and that is the shattering of beloved myths and comforting relationships by the proxy of television and nostalgia. Bill Cosby is Cliff Huxtable, regardless of what the critics say. We are all made up of perception and reality, fact and fiction, aspiration and confirmation. It is ridiculous to argue that a man who was capable of creating the character that fathered a generation did not, at some deep level, possess those nurturing characteristics.
If you want to drill down to the rotten heart of this entire piece here it is: I am entitled to my fond memories of The Cosby Show, so to hell with the women who have made this complicated for me.
Curiously, on her May 25 column about Islamic terror, Flowers had no problem passing judgment:
I posted something on Facebook, used some expletives and called this Islamic Terror, and no one faulted me for my four-letter words but some scolded me for calling this “Islamic.”
I posted …. faulted me … scolded me
Flowers is a immigration lawyer who went from Bryn Mawr, so she has no problem passing judgment outside of court. Why the hangup now? Why is she so reluctant to see the wheels of justice in this particular case?
Because Flowers’ impulse here is the desire at the heart of all conservative writing: the defense of the writer’s privilege.
The determiner of whether Christine Flowers gets upset about a crime is whether or not prosecuting the perp would interfere with her fandom. I’m serious. Look back over her career and tell me I’m wrong. Every single one of her columns is an exercise in bougie vapidity: a string of bad logic and barely-connected anecdotes, like a necklace of dog teeth hanging on cheap floss. The collected thoughts of Christine Flowers, pundit, are a map of a suburban, grievance-based universe with her at the center.
You can see this in the rest of the Cosby column. She follows the “If I had my way” paragraph with a “Yes, but” paragraph: yes, he was an adulterer. I agree with all of that, yes, he used drugs, yes, he has done unpleasant things.
And then this nauseating passage:
But I am allowed to refuse to believe that it includes rape. I am entitled, at least while this jury is out and well beyond, to craft a different narrative from the bits and pieces of complaints and testimony of women who waited years — decades — to come out of their own self-imposed shadows and say “me too, listen to me, too.” I will be called a slut shamer, a cruel skeptic, the reason that rape victims hide their shame in silence.
But I am allowed
I am entitled
I will be called
This is banal, narcissistic cruelty so self-pleased and self-delighted that it’s hard for me to believe it’s real.
In Flowers’ telling, Flowers is the aggrieved party here. Flowers was the wronged soul. She is entitled. She is allowed. She will be called. Her, her, her. Me, me, me. She is the true victim in all of this, not the women who were allegedly drugged and sexually attacked. And she finishes off her astoundingly un-self-conscious paragraph by noting that the women came out of hiding late, so that means they don’t matter.
It is inconvenient, you see, that Flowers might one day have to combine the thought of the beloved TV patriarch with the image of a depraved sex criminal. It would be regrettable. For her, Flowers. The rest of the Cosby column is a defense of this central idea, that Flowers is the oppressed party. Most of us would sink into the Earth at this point, but, oh no, Flowers is just getting warmed up:
I’m prepared for that, even after the verdict is announced, because I think this case is sui generis. There is too much of everything here, too many women reciting the same story (and instead of showing consistency, I think it could signal the mob effect.) Too many people willing to pull down a man who, because he happened to say the taboo things that shamed young black men for living down to expectations, is considered a traitor to the race. Too many women who see in this an opportunity to exorcise the ghosts of all the meanness in the world, the assault on their presumed dignity, the Trump effect. This, I think, is the real reason so many people want to see a conviction: It will confirm that the world is a dangerous place for my gender, and get a condemnation, by proxy, of the patriarchy.
According to Flowers, those of us who want Cosby to face justice are the true villains here. What are our motivations? Well, you see, it’s not merely that we want to inconvenience Flowers personally—although that is our main goal, of course. It’s that we deliberately want to slander her political beliefs. I’m having a hard time untangling her fucking premise. I think Flowers’ argument is this:
Cosby is sui generis, a kind of moral superman who is excused from all of the crimes he might have ever committed, because of his show and because he scolded black people, which are both activities that I, Christine Flowers, enjoy. Therefore the rules of law and good and evil do not apply to him, because We Once Liked Him and this is a public thing and I am Flowers and must fill a column.
Is that the boundary of rational appeal in this horse-bowel of a think piece?
Holy God, there is some vanity nostalgia peddling that passes for entertainment commentary, but I think this might be the Fort Knox of vile special pleading. Literally every single circumstance overseen by the law is a unique case. It is why we write our laws in a particular, general way. Again, I am faced with the eternal question of Christine Flowers: is this offensive because it’s vacuous, or is it offensive because it’s malicious?
But Flowers can dig to a lower level:
And that’s my problem with this prosecution. Bill Cosby is an easy target, able to stand in for all the men who might have mistreated us in a distant past, and a cautionary tale to those college frat boys who might take advantage when we lie supine and drunk on the floor in the future. After a year of leaked commentaries and conversation, evidence and prognostication, we are left with the words of one woman and one man, and yet it’s as if the tidal wave of feminist history is set to engulf that one man as some kind of vindication for all the women who’ve been wronged. The 50 other accusers, like a finger-wagging Greek chorus in the back of the courtroom, stand in for the wronged women of the past. Gloria Allred leads them in righteous chant, and we look on.
Let me make this explicit: Flowers seems to be arguing that prosecuting a rape case is a feminist revenge conspiracy. Is there any doubt that this person would hide Cosby’s accusers in underground tombs if she could?
But I do hate these trials that pit an evolving societal ethic against a flawed human being, one person, albeit a person greatly privileged, to make a point that “we’re better, because now we get it.”
People like Flowers live in a world where they can say whatever they want and it becomes real. There are no people, no individual human beings suffering. There are merely large groups of indistinct faces, clumped together, easily stereotyped. But these women have names and lives and histories, Flowers. They are not your play-pieces to make a cruel, callous, unbelievably insensitive argument with.
Fifty-nine women have come forth to accuse this man. They have no real benefit to gain from it. Maybe some of them will get money from it. Most of them probably won’t.
Suppose the our justice system eventually concludes Cosby didn’t do it. Unlikely, but let’s entertain Flowers’ proposition for a second. What happens then, Flowers? The accusers will be famous in the public eye for being the alleged victims of sexual assault. That’s how history will remember them. When their grandchildren or children Google them, that’s what will come up. They will be attached to this case forever. All fifty-nine women. Fifty. Nine. The Cosby case isn’t he said versus she said. It’s he said versus she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said. Fifty-nine.
The Flowers take is genuinely loathsome, loathsome in the way Renaissance Lutherans imagined the devil was loathsome: malicious in its intent, vile in its philosophy, and noxious in presentation. Shame on you, Flowers, for your bigotry and rape-apology. Shame on the Inquirer, for publishing it. Shame on Sandra Shea, Flowers’ editor, for her half-hearted defense of Flowers.
I understand the web of fashionable nihilistic cynicism that must reign over every public statement in the twenty-first century, but goddamnit, right and wrong are more important than your pleasure, and justice must be done. There are other people in the world besides you, Christine. Retire.