Asking Difficult Questions: Scott Simon’s Conversation With Bill Cosby

“I just did what I should.”

Late last night, Scott Simon tweeted that thought about the questions he posed to Bill Cosby during a conversation that aired Saturday on Weekend Edition.

This post is meant to preserve for future reference and guidance what happened and how Weekend Edition handled the situation.

Scott gave the comedian a chance to respond to accusations involving alleged sexual assaults.  Though some of the allegations go back a decade or more, they have been in the news in recent weeks. Eric Deggans reminded us today that Cosby has not directly addressed them. Cosby’s representatives have said the accusations are either not true or are due to misunderstandings.

NPR journalists believe that “to secure the public’s trust, we must make it clear that our primary allegiance is to the public.”  As we do that, we treat those we encounter with respect. If we “ask tough questions, we do so to seek answers — not confrontations.”

Here’s how Scott and the show balanced those responsibilities. The audio and full transcript of the interview are here. This part of the conversation came at the end of the interview:

SIMON: “This question gives me no pleasure, Mr. Cosby, but there have been serious allegations raised about you in recent days. [Two seconds of silence.] You’re shaking your head no. [Two seconds of silence.] I’m in the news business. I have to ask the question — do you have any response to those charges? [Two seconds of silence.] Shaking your head no. [Two seconds of silence.] There are people who love you who might like to hear from you about this. I want to give you the chance. [Five seconds of silence.]

“All right. Camille and Bill Cosby — they have lent 62 pieces from their collection of African and African-American artists to create an exhibit called ‘Conversations: African and African-American Artworks In Dialogue.’ It’s now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art through early 2016. Thank you both for joining us.”

CAMILLE COSBY: “Thank you. Thank you.”

It is also worth noting that listeners were given a heads up about the way the conversation would conclude. In the introduction, Scott said:

“Bill and Camille Cosby have loaned 62 pieces from their extraordinary art collection to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., for a show called ‘Conversations: African and African-American Artworks In Dialogue.’ Much of their art has never been shown in public. We spoke with the Cosbys at the museum last week, as Bill Cosby’s name was in the news for a different reason — allegations of rape and sexual assault have resurfaced against him. Mr. Cosby settled out of court in a lawsuit for sexual assault back in 2006. Several women supplied affidavits in the suit, which was settled for an undisclosed amount of money. You will hear Mr. Cosby’s response to our questions about the allegations during this interview. We sat down to speak with Bill and Camille Cosby at the Smithsonian in the midst of their art.”

 (Memmos; Nov. 17, 2014)

November 17, 2014

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