Bill Cosby’s lawyers strong-armed tabloid into ditching story on rape claims
- The Guardian, Friday 21 November 2014 21.20 GMT
The National Enquirer’s investigation was carried out in 2005, just weeks after it first emerged that Cosby had been accused of drugging and molesting a female friend, Andrea Constand. The tabloid magazine dispatched its senior reporter Robin Mizrahi to look into the story.
Mizrahi made contact with a second woman, Beth Ferrier, who alleged that she too had been drugged and sexually molested by the entertainer. The Enquirer brought Ferrier to Los Angeles from her home in Denver, where she was then working as a model, and Mizrahi interviewed her and arranged for her to undergo a lie detector test.
“She passed the polygraph test with flying colors,” Mizrahi told the Guardian. “She had a very, very detailed description of what allegedly happened which I still remember because it was so haunting. She said Cosby had stood over her and then she fell asleep because there was something in her coffee.”
Mizrahi, a Los Angeles-based writer who left the Enquirer in 2009 having worked there for nine years, filed her story in February 2005 based in large part on Ferrier’s allegations. But she was then informed by her editors that they had decided to kill it after the magazine came under pressure from Cosby’s lawyers, who threatened to sue.
Further details of the exchanges between Cosby’s team and executives at the National Enquirer are given in court documents lodged by Andrea Constand in the course of a civil lawsuit brought by her against Cosby’s lawyer and the magazine. The suit says that the Enquirer “provided a copy of the unpublished Beth Ferrier article to Cosby and his representatives”.
After negotiations between the two sides, carried out at a meeting between them in Houston, Texas, they agreed, according to the lawsuit, that “Cosby would provide an exclusive interview with the National Enquirer, if the National Enquirer would agree to refrain from printing the Beth Ferrier story”. On 21 February 2005 the deal was sealed, with Cosby granting the interview to the magazine.
The Enquirer’s decision to switch its own investigation with a soft-soap interview was reported by Mark Ebner in the Daily Beast this week.
In the Enquirer’s ensuing front-page “exclusive”, Cosby, then 67, was allowed to present his rebuttal of the sexual assault allegations that had only just started to dog him. He argued that “words and actions can be misinterpreted by another person,” adding that “I’m not saying that what I did was wrong, but I apologize to my loving wife … These allegations have caused my family great emotional stress.”
He also cast aspersions on the motives of the women who had raised the allegations, saying: “I am not going to give in to people who try to exploit me because of my celebrity status.”
Constand denied that she had ever asked for any money from Cosby and insisted in court documents that her only motivation in raising the alleged sexual assault was to ask the star for an apology. She sued both his legal team and the Enquirer for the suggestion that she was trying to “take advantage” of him, and the lawsuit was settled in 2006 for an undisclosed sum.
Mizrahi told the Guardian that she remains “livid” about the spiking of her hard-news investigation in favour of “a bullshit feel-good interview with Cosby. I feel sad for the women who tried to speak up and weren’t listened to because he was so powerful and had such effective lawyers.”
Cosby has consistently denied all allegations of drugging, rape and sexual assault that have now been made by seven named women. No criminal charges have ever been brought against him relating to any of the claims.
In a statement that was posted this week on Cosby’s official website, his lawyers said that the comic did not intend to dignify these “decade-old, discredited allegations” with any comment. That statement has now been taken down and replaced with an error message. Instead, the website now carries a joint statement drawn up with Constand’s lawyers pointing out that the reference to “discredited allegations” in no way referred to those raised by her.
The Guardian approached Martin Singer, Cosby’s Los Angeles-based lawyer who led the negotiations over the Enquirer article and was duly sued by Constand, but he was not immediately available for comment.
American Media Inc, which publishes the National Enquirer, did not respond to questions from the Guardian about the decision to drop the Ferrier investigation. It said that the Enquirer, “more than any other publication, was unflinching in our aggressive coverage of allegations against Mr Cosby beginning in 2000 when everyone else avoided the story. We continue to remain aggressive in our reporting today and stand by the integrity of our coverage.”
Mizrahi said: “I did unflinching reporting, but they didn’t publish it.”
Beth Ferrier’s account of how she had been allegedly drugged and molested finally saw the light of day four months after the Enquirer buried it when the Philadelphia Daily News carried its own version. “I want Bill Cosby to know I’m not afraid of him and that what he did to me was wrong,” she said.