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Analysis: Why Time's Up for Bill Cosby

The guilty verdict against the one-time beloved “America’s Dad” reflects changing perceptions in #MeToo/Time’s Up era – movements his case helped propel.

#MeToo and Time’s Up got their names and momentum last year after allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein unleashed a tidal wave of sexual harassment and assault accusations, stretching from Hollywood to Washington.

But the movements likely wouldn’t exist without women first speaking out about their experiences with Bill Cosby – and it’s equally possible his conviction Thursday on sexual assault charges stems at least in part from the #MeToo/Time’s Up era his case helped wrought. 

The once-beloved star of “The Cosby Show” now faces up to 30 years in prison, caught in a Catch-22 of his own making.

Cosby’s long run as the wise and wisecracking “America’s Dad” began its slow death march in 2014 when Hannibal Buress, during a comedy routine, branded him a rapist. The once-unthinkable attack spurred dozens of women to come forward with sexual assault allegations against Cosby, with some dating to the 1960s.

Among the accusers was Andrea Constand, a Temple University employee who charged Cosby drugged and molested her in his Philadelphia-area home in 2004. Cosby contended their encounter was consensual.

His first trial ended in a hung jury last June, less than three months before The New York Times and The New Yorker published what turned out to be Pulitzer Prize-winning – and game changing – reports about Weinstein.

The movie producer didn’t pack anywhere near the household-name status of Cosby. But the accounts sounded familiar: An entertainment giant uses his power to victimize numerous women who fear they’ll never be believed.

The Weinstein stories spurred many more accounts of lewd behavior and far worse, allegedly perpetrated by major and not-so-major figures in the entertainment and news media, as well as in politics. This all unfolded in the shadow of the election of a president once caught on tape crudely bragging about sexually accosting women at will, and whose inauguration sparked massive marches by women in the U.S. and beyond.

But there seems little doubt the allegations against Cosby – shocking in their target, their numbers and, above all, in their details – changed public perceptions, not only of him, but of the culture of sexism, sexual assault and secrecy embedded in all kinds of institutions.

Cosby’s alleged actions were not only abhorrent, but far from an aberration. If Bill Cosby was capable of some of the worst of human behavior, then, it seemed, nothing was out of the realm of possibility.

Even before Thursday’s verdict, it was impossible to listen the same way to Cosby’s comic stories of growing up poor in Philadelphia with his brother Russell or his imagined conversation between God and Noah. Ditto for his TV triumphs, from his “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” of 1970s cartoon junkyard fame to his stint as loving dad and doctor Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” TV’s top program for five seasons in the 1980s.

His previous image as a genial entertainment icon stands at odds not only with his conviction, but with the scene of a nearly blind 80-year-old man cursing a prosecutor in court Thursday during a dispute over whether he’s a flight risk.

Cosby’s legacy is now a product of his crimes – a potential death in prison for a pioneering comedian whose worst actions helped galvanize the movement that sealed his fate.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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