July 23, 2015

Bill Cosby biography is toxic, just like Bill Cosby


cosbyLast September, the journalist Mark Whitaker’s biography of Bill Cosby, Cosby: His Life and Times, was published to positive reviews. The New York Times Book Review called the book “wonderfully thorough,” and the New Yorker hailed it as “invaluable.”

A month later, a clip of the comedian Hannibal Buress’s routine about Bill Cosby (“You raped women, Bill Cosby . . . You’re a rapist”) went viral, and the many allegations of rape and sexual assault that had been gathering for years finally broke into the mainstream. (Over forty women have now come forward.)

Whitaker omitted the rape allegations, and his remarks in a November Daily Beast piece titled “The Agony of Cosby’s Biographer: Why Mark Whitaker Ignored Rape Allegations” are representative of the tightrope he has had to walk since the book’s publication:

“Well, look, obviously the story has changed, and I’m going to have to address that in future editions of the book, if not sooner,” Whitaker says, exhaling. “If it happened, and it was a pattern, it’s terrible and really creepy . . . I was just having a discussion with my son about this, and psychologically, if it happened . . . it’s sort of compartmentalization.”

But the book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, has decided to take a sharper approach. The Associated Press reported yesterday that S&S will not make revisions and will not release “future editions.” Though a paperback with a September 2015 publication date still shows up online, that edition will not be published.

Which effectively means that the book will disappear from stores and will be allowed to fall out of print. Yesterday, Barnes & Noble’s website showed that Cosby was in stock at only one of the chain’s New York-area stores—a very unusual showing for a fairly recent frontlist hardcover published by a big house.

Simon & Schuster also announced that it had pulled the many celebrity blurbs for Cosby and its subject from retailers’ sites. Cosby was praised by Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Mary Tyler Moore, David Letterman, and Wynton Marsalis (as well as the novelist Stephen L. Carter and the journalist Bob Spitz), but according to the Hollywood Reporter:

Tom Keaney, who represents both Seinfeld and Letterman, tells THR in a statement, “We were unaware that those quotes were still in circulation, and are asking the publisher to refrain from their future use.”

Reps for Crystal, Moore and Marsalis did not respond to THR’s requests for comment.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the celebrity blurbs were still visible on S&S’s site:

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Mark Krotov is senior editor at Melville House.