NEW YORK — “I have to ask about your name coming up in the news recently regarding this comedian–”
“No, no, we don’t answer that.”
Bill Cosby dismissed the question about sexual assault allegations before the Associated Press reporter even finished asking it. Afterward, Cosby pressured the reporter not to let the public see or hear his answer at all.
That was on November 6. The AP, the world’s largest news organization, didn’t publish the video right away. But as the allegations against Cosby escalated in recent days, it decided the tense exchange was newsworthy.
The AP shared the raw videotape of the interview Wednesday night. Cosby was seated next to his wife Camille. The occasion was an interview about the couple’s donations to a Smithsonian art exhibit.
After Cosby said “we don’t answer that” — meaning he and his wife — the AP reporter tried to ask the question another way, and Cosby simply said, “There’s no response.”
A third time, he said, “There is no comment about that.”
Cosby went on to say, “I think you were told — I don’t want to compromise your integrity, but — we don’t, I don’t, talk about it.”
Then, once the formal interview was over but before the Cosbys removed their microphones, Cosby asked for reassurance that “none of that will be shown.”
The young unnamed interviewer, following journalistic protocol, made no commitments and said he’d relay the comedian’s concerns to his bosses.
Cosby applied more pressure, saying at one point, “I would appreciate it if it was scuttled.”
Cosby also seemed to suggest that other news outlets had been cautioned, ahead of their interviews with Cosby, against bringing up the sexual assault allegations. Perhaps the other outlets had even agreed not to ask.
“Tell your boss the reason why we didn’t say that upfront was because we thought that AP had the integrity to not ask,” Cosby said, referring to the questions about the accusations.
Cosby repeatedly invoked the reporter’s integrity.
“I think if you want to consider yourself to be serious,” he said, “that it will not appear anywhere.”
Initially it did not. The allegations, while originally made years ago, were only marginally in the news at the time. But as Cosby’s accusers agreed to interviews with various media outlets, including CNN, the AP reviewed the footage.
“As this story has evolved, there is a very real desire for people to hear from a man whom many have been listening to their whole lives,” AP managing editor for entertainment Lou Ferrara said in a statement.
“Mr. Cosby’s comments about this matter have been scarce as the story has increased in intensity, as was the case with his initial comments to us and NPR.”
(In an interview with NPR about the art exhibit that was taped ahead of time and was broadcast on Saturday, Cosby went mum when asked about the allegations.)
“When we went back and looked at everything, combined with where the story is now, we realized that people would want to see the additional video,” Ferrara said. “It has more significance and interest now than it did just a couple of weeks ago.”
Sure enough, on Thursday the video was widely shared and broadcast, contributing to a portrait of a legendary comedian who has worked hard to avoid press scrutiny — and has often succeeded, up until now.