clock menu more-arrow no yes

President Obama: There’s no precedent for revoking Bill Cosby’s Medal of Freedom

Alex Wong/Getty Images

  1. Responding to a reporter's question about whether he'd revoke Bill Cosby's Medal of Freedom in light of the 77-year-old comedian's admission that he gave drugs to at least one woman before having sex with her, President Obama strongly suggested that he wouldn't, saying "there's no precedent" for doing so, and "we don't have that policy."
  2. At Wednesday's press conference, Obama also spoke out strongly about the sexual assault allegations against Cosby: "If you give a woman, or a man, for that matter, a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent ... that's rape, and this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape."

Why there's no policy for revoking Cosby's medal

Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have called on Cosby to return the medal, which he received in 2002, Politico reports. And a WhiteHouse.gov petition with more than 10,000 signatures calls for its revocation, saying, "Bill Cosby does not deserve to be on the list of distinguished participants."

But the Washington Post's Hunter Schwartz has explained there are no formal rules dictating the criteria for receiving a Medal of Freedom — the nation's highest civilian honor — or for how it would be rescinded.

The year Cosby was awarded the medal, Aram Bakshian Jr., who worked in the Reagan administration, told the University of Virginia Miller Center that there's no formal criteria, except that recipients are "Americans who have contributed richly to the national life some way." But that can mean anything, from famous comedian and Jell-O spokesman Bill Cosby to Patricia Wald, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge. They don't even technically have to be American; South African President Nelson Mandela was given the medal in 2002.

Cosby has admitted giving drugs to women

It was recently revealed that Cosby, who's consistently denied allegations of  sexual misconduct from dozens of women over five decades — many of whom say Cosby drugged them — once admitted buying sedatives to give to women he wanted to have sex with.

That development came from 2005 court documents obtained by the Associated Press, in which Cosby said in a deposition that he procured Quaaludes for this purpose, and that he actually gave the drug to at least one woman.

The testimony, according to the AP's July 6 report, was part of a sexual assault lawsuit filed by a former employee of Temple University. While under oath, according to the documents, Cosby also admitted to giving the Temple employee Benadryl, an over-the-counter drug that causes drowsiness.

His lawyers fought the release of the documents, arguing that their contents would be embarrassing for Cosby, and the lawsuit was settled out of court in 2006.

The allegations and the admission about Quaaludes have severely tarnished Cosby's reputation

Cosby has not faced criminal charges, and unless new allegations emerge that happened more recently so as to fall within the statute of limitations, he probably never will. But he has faced significant commercial and professional consequences. The allegations cost him his Netflix special, a planned NBC show, and The Cosby Show's TV Land syndication deal, all of which were canceled after the wave of 2014 allegations.

In addition, several theaters, including the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the Virginia Theater in Illinois, and the Tarrytown Music Hall in New York, have canceled scheduled Cosby appearances.

The Navy stripped him of his honorary chief petty officer designation, and Spelman College suspended the Cosby Chair for the Humanities, which was established in the 1980s in part due to a $20 million donation by Cosby and his wife, Camille.

A vandal wrote "rapist" multiple times on Cosby's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Mark Whitaker, author of the recent Cosby biography, apologized for omitting the sexual assault allegations from the book, promising to pursue them "at the appropriate time."

Cosby resigned from the board of trustees at Temple University in early 2015.

More generally, the allegations have deeply tarnished Cosby's reputation. As MSNBC's Chris Hayes tweeted after Beverly Johnson came forward with her allegations in December 2014, it "feels like we've achieved ‘first line in the obituary' status on the Cosby story."

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.