New York Mag Cosby Cover Letter

New York magazine’s cover said it all — 35 women photographed in the same chair. Thirty-five women who claim comedian Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them and wanted to share their stories with the world.

But it was the 36th seat — an empty one in the corner — that was perhaps the most powerful. It seemed to represent the 11 others who did not talk about their Cosby allegations. It also seemed to represent men and women worldwide who had their own sexual abuse stories — many who said they belong in “the empty chair.”


Amanda Demme/ New York Magazine

After New York magazine’s story went live Sunday, social media lit up with the hashtag #TheEmptyChair, which is being used to share personal accounts and support for others who have survived similar situations. Journalist Elon James White was one of the first to use it, posting statements from women who told him they wanted to share their stories but couldn’t speak for themselves. Within 24 hours, it had been used nearly 13,000 times.

“It’s not so much that the conversation is new here, but the Cosby cover gave people a moment to speak about it,” White, who publishes a multimedia platform This Week In Blackness, told The Washington Post. “Hundreds of thousands of women feeling that they belong in that empty chair.”

[Cosby’s legacy recast: Accusers speak in detail about sexual-assault allegations]

Late Sunday night, White, 36, posted a note on Twitter from someone who he said had sent him a message. “‘I can’t share my empty chair story because I signed a NDA (a non-disclosure agreement),'” he quoted the anonymous message. “‘Needed the money more than justice, and he knew it.'”

The anonymous tweets continued to pour from White’s Twitter account.

People who used the hashtag also showed support for victims of abuse.

“The women on the NYMag cover and those who sit in TheEmptyChair, I’m sorry this happened to you, but I thank you for telling your stories,” one woman tweeted.

And the hashtag prompted a larger discussion about sexual assault.

“#TheEmptyChair signals the women who couldn’t come forward mostly because we, as a culture, wouldn’t believe them,” MSNBC’s “SoPOPular” host Janet Mock wrote.

Cosby himself has been accused of sexual assault by more than 40 women in cases that date back to the 1960s. He has not been charged with a crime.

[35 Bill Cosby accusers on New York magazine’s cover]

“There are now 46 women who have come forward publicly to accuse Cosby of rape or sexual assault,” New York magazine’s Noreen Malone wrote in Sunday’s cover story. “The group, at present, ranges in age from early 20s to 80 and includes supermodels Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson alongside waitresses and Playboy bunnies and journalists and a host of women who formerly worked in show business. Many of the women say they know of others still out there who’ve chosen to remain silent.”

The article included interviews with 35 of them.

[Will Cosby ever face prosecution over allegations of sexual misdeeds?]

“Each story is awful in its own right,” Malone wrote. “But the horror is multiplied by the sheer volume of seeing them together, reading them together, considering their shared experience. The women have found solace in their number — discovering that they hadn’t been alone, that there were others out there who believed them implicitly, with whom they didn’t need to be afraid of sharing the darkest details of their lives.”

White said he hopes the story — and hashtag — will kickstart a conversation.

“It’s not just a women’s issue,” he said. “It’s an America issue.”

More about the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby:

Cosby appeals ruling that unsealed deposition excerpts

Ruth Marcus: Cosby should be stripped of Presidential Medal of Freedom

When Bill Cosby wanted Quaaludes, he turned to this gynecologist

Cosby’s own words provide scandalous details of his hidden life

Quaaludes: From Bill Cosby to the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’


(Photographs by Amanda Demme for New York magazine)

In the years since women first said Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them and the months since the media started paying attention, it’s been difficult to keep track of the comedian’s alleged victims. Many publications — including The Washington Post — have reported dozens of versions of the same story: A young woman, often an aspiring actress, is violated by a man who thinks himself a mentor.

[Bill Cosby’s legacy, recast: Accusers speak in detail about sexual-assault allegations]

After a few weeks, unfortunately, it became difficult to tell such stories apart. Was it P.J. Masten who said Cosby drugged and raped her in a Chicago hotel, or was that Lise-Lotte Lublin?

New York magazine may have ended the relative anonymity of many Cosby accusers for good. For a cover story this week, New York interviewed and photographed 35 of Cosby’s alleged victims, supplementing the story with video interviews with six.

“The group of women Cosby allegedly assaulted functions almost as a longitudinal study — both for how an individual woman, on her own, deals with such trauma over the decades and for how the culture at large has grappled with rape over the same time period,” the magazine wrote. “In the ’60s, when the first alleged assault by Cosby occurred, rape was considered to be something violent committed by a stranger … But among younger women, and particularly online, there is a strong sense now that speaking up is the only thing to do, that a woman claiming her own victimhood is more powerful than any other weapon in the fight against rape.”

The stories here aren’t necessarily new.

Joan Tarshis alleges that Bill Cosby drugged and raped her when she was a young comedy writer in 1969. (McKenna Ewen and Matt Moyer/The Washington Post)

“In the early 1990s, in my mid-20s, Bill Cosby mentored me,” Lili Bernard, who went public in a news conference in May, said in a New York video. “He gained my total trust and then he drugged me without my knowledge. He raped me. I wouldn’t call him crazy … I felt that he was very much in control of his behavior.”

The images and videos, however, leave quite an impression.

The New York story comes at the end of a particularly bad month for Cosby. The comedian has denied all sexual assault allegations and has not been charged with a crime, but acknowledged in a 2005 court deposition made public three weeks ago that he intended to give quaaludes to young women with whom he wanted to have sex.

[Cosby’s own words provide scandalous details of his hidden life]

In the deposition, Cosby put himself forward as quite the Lothario.

“I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them,” he testified.

[How Bill Cosby’s 2004 ‘Pound Cake’ speech exploded into his latest legal disaster]

One notable absence from the pages of New York: Andrea Constand, the former college basketball player and Temple University administrator who claimed Cosby drugged and raped her in his Pennsylvania home. (Constand, who signed a confidentiality agreement, has since sought full release of Cosby’s deposition.)

Cosby accuser Andrea Constand in 1987. (Ron Bull/Toronto Star/Canadian Press via AP)

Constand’s civil suit against the comedian led to the deposition — and testimony so damning that Spelman College, a historically black women’s school in Atlanta that maintained its relationship with the comedian long after Temple cut ties with him, said goodbye.

“The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship at Spelman College has been discontinued,” the school’s communications office said in a brief statement Saturday, as CNN reported.

The foundation was established by Cosby’s wife, Camille, to honor her mother, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported; two of his daughters attended the school, where exteriors for “A Different World,” a “Cosby Show” spin-off, were filmed.

Worth noting: On the cover, New York left a 36th chair vacant — presumably for those who have yet to speak.

Barbara Bowman says she is "certain" Bill Cosby drugged and raped her when she was a teenaged actor in the 1980s. (Erin O'Connor and McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

More about the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby:

Ruth Marcus: Cosby should be stripped of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

When Cosby wanted Quaaludes, he turned to this gynecologist

California court decision means Cosby could be deposed again

Will Cosby ever face prosecution over allegations of sexual misdeeds?

Quaaludes: From Bill Cosby to the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’

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