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Rewriting Bill Cosby’s History

A dirty old man, yes, but one of the great pop culture figures in TV history (Randy Miramontez/Shutterstock)

Look, I am very, very happy that Bill Cosby was convicted of drugging and raping that woman. I believed that he did it to many women, and I’m pleased that justice, in at least one case, was served.

I am also really sad that this is who Bill Cosby turned out to be.

But this is wrong:

In addition to Yale and other universities rescinding honorary degrees, the Television Academy confirmed to USA TODAY Wednesday that Cosby’s status in its Hall of Fame is under review in the wake of his criminal conviction last week. Before the guilty verdict, the Academy removed Cosby, who was inducted in 1992, from a listing of Hall of Fame honorees on its website.

Honorary degrees? Fine, rescind them. They’re meaningless. But it is wrong to take him out of the Hall of Fame. Bill Cosby didn’t get into the TV Hall of Fame for being a nice guy. He got into it because of the quality of his art, and the fact that he was a really big deal in television history. You cannot take that away from him — and shouldn’t try to.

The fact that Bill Cosby was also a sexual predator obviously mars his legacy irreparably, and that terrible fact should be made clear in any exhibit at the Hall of Fame, if such a place actually exists. But if the TV Hall of Fame is going to start kicking people out because they were bad people away from the screen, it’s going to be pretty lonely in there.

Bill Cosby is a bad man. He’s getting his comeuppance, and may die in prison. But bad men can and do make good art, and make history. To not be able to grasp that fact and live with the contradiction is childish and puritanical. It is just to put Bill Cosby in jail for what he did, and to hold him in public contempt. It is not just to deny his artistic accomplishments.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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