I will never forget the day the Bill Cosby story broke. It was Jan. 20, 2005. I was working for the Philadelphia Daily News as an investigative crime reporter, so the story was assigned to me. “Not ‘the Cos,’ ” I thought to myself as I raced out the door. I was a huge fan of The Cosby Show and I truly thought he was Dr. Huxtable.
But I covered crime and this was a story, so I set out to report it.
In many ways, I couldn’t have been more prepared.
Not only did I have a master’s in criminal justice, I’d spent much of the past year and a half digging into sexual-misconduct scandals within the Pennsylvania State Police after a state trooper was convicted of sexually molesting six women, most of whom had never gone to police when the assaults first happened. The tally eventually climbed to more than 30 victims. A couple of years earlier, I had done an expose on drug-facilitated sexual assaults, which were on the rise in Philadelphia.
I remember how horrified I was when I dug into those crimes. “It’s premeditated rape,” I thought to myself. And the perfect crime. The drugs these predators use wipe out women’s resistance and their memory. By the time they wake up and realize something happened to them, the drugs are probably already out of their system, so even if they go to the hospital, it’s too late. Even if it’s not, the perpetrator can argue the victim took the drugs willingly and the sexual contact was consensual.
“And if the assailant is a powerful man with a pristine public reputation, who is going to believe her?” I would come to wonder.
Little did I know that I’d soon be investigating similar and shocking allegations being lodged against “America’s Dad.”
Andrea Constand, a woman who used to be the director of operations for the Temple University women’s basketball team, had accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his Elkins Park mansion in January 2004. I spoke with people at Temple who knew her and discovered her reputation there was pristine.
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But that didn’t stop the Cosby team from trying to smear her, and many in the media were willing accomplices. They leaked a story to the now-defunct website “Celebrity Justice” that a taped phone call between Cosby and Constand’s mother, Gianna, was a “classic shakedown” in which Gianna tried to get money out of Cosby. It wasn’t true and I followed up with my own story from sources that said Cosby was the one who offered Gianna financial compensation but she didn’t take him up on his offer. (That phone call, in which Cosby offers Constand an “educational trust” — an offer she did not accept –- became key prosecution evidence in the trial. Gianna taped the call.)
I watched in horror as all the usual journalistic rules went out the window. Sexual-assault victims are normally not identified unless the victim gives consent, but Andrea Constand’s name and photo were quickly all over the media. (The Daily News did not run her name or photo until her attorneys gave the OK.)
That wasn’t all.
I soon discovered Constand wasn’t the only accuser — that while Cosby built his career with his wholesome, no-profanity comedy routines and cultivated his image as “America’s Dad,” he lived a dark, secret life drugging and sexually assaulting young women. California attorney Tamara Green contacted me and gave me her exclusive story. We ran it on the cover Feb. 8, 2005.
Twelve other accusers came forward as well, with similar stories. Like Green, they came forward to support Constand. They were the original #MeToo women, long before there was such a movement. I got an exclusive interview with one of them, Beth Ferrier, that ran in June 2005. She had passed a lie-detector test by the National Enquirer, which was going to run her story but then dropped it in exchange for its “exclusive” interview with Cosby that ran in March 2005.
I went on national TV shows where my stories were attacked. I got many phone calls from Cosby’s attorney, Marty Singer. I felt he was trying to intimidate me off the story. A negative story was written about me in the Philadelphia Weekly. Bruce L. Castor Jr., the Montgomery County district attorney at the time, made what I perceived to be veiled threats about having me arrested for writing and doing radio and TV interviews about Gianna’s taped phone call. He called it an “illegal wiretap.” (It was not illegal and was used as evidence in the trial.)
Far worse than anything I experienced, though, was how Constand and her attorneys were treated by Castor. He issued a press release on Feb. 17, 2005, saying he wasn’t going to charge Cosby, citing “insufficient credible and admissible evidence.” (It came out during the trial that detectives were still in the middle of investigating when he pulled the plug on the case.)
However, he neglected to tell Constand’s attorneys, Dolores Troiani and Bebe Kivitz, so they could warn Constand. They found out when the media showed up on their doorstep that night. (Castor says he faxed them the news release.) Castor never even bothered to meet with Constand himself before making his decision. (In February 2016 he said he believed Constand at the time but didn’t think he could prove it in a court of law.)
When this scandal bubbled again in October 2014, after the Hannibal Buress video calling Cosby a rapist went viral, my reaction was, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” as the same accusers I’d spoken with in 2005 came forward again. This time they got a different reception from the media.
It was surreal sitting in court Thursday afternoon when the verdict was read.
These cases, especially ones involving drugs, are tough to win. Sometimes the only justice victims will receive is being able to tell their story to the media. Hopefully, in the wake of Constand’s victory, the media will be more open to listening instead of dismissing victims outright because their accusations are against someone who’s never been publicly accused before.
Sometimes, if they’re lucky, victims get prosecutors like Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele and his team and investigators like Cheltenham Police Sgt. Richard Schaffer and Montgomery County Detective James Reape. Even though Steele had nothing to do with the way Castor treated Constand in 2005, he still apologized to her at Thursday’s news conference.
“We are sorry for what happened,” he said. “We got a chance to make up for it. And we hope we have.”
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On the day of closing arguments, Constand came back into the courtroom to listen to the prosecution. She was seated two rows in front of me. As she turned to talk to someone behind her, our eyes met.
After all this time we’d never met, never even spoken. We’d connected on Facebook before the criminal case was reopened in July 2015, so she knew what I looked like — but I’d always gone through her attorneys when reporting these stories.
I smiled and nodded.
“It’s been a long time,” she said, referring to this journey we’ve been on together, yet separately.
I nodded. “It has,” I said. Thirteen years.
Nicole Weisensee Egan is working on a manuscript about her more than 13 years covering the case for a book tentatively titled, “Chasing Cosby.” You can read a selection of her work at NicoleWeisenseeEgan.com.