President Obama comments on Bill Cosby rape allegations. Appropriate?

President Obama said he made it a general policy to not comment on the specifics of cases still in the courts. Then, he said: 'I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.' 

Joshua Roberts/Reuters
President Obama takes a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Weds.

President Obama on Wednesday all but said comedian Bill Cosby appears guilty of sexual crimes. The comment from the nation’s chief executive in the highly visible setting of a press conference could represent a life-altering moment for the once-beloved Mr. Cosby, who faces longstanding allegations from multiple women who claim he drugged and then raped them.

“Bill Cosby is done,” tweeted actress Mia Farrow, a fierce Cosby critic, in response to Obama’s comment.

The subject arose when a reporter asked the president if, given new information about the Cosby case, the White House might revoke Cosby’s 2002 Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

The Associated Press recently published court documents from 2005 in which Cosby admitted under oath that he had obtained quaaludes, a powerful relaxant and mood-altering drug, to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex. It was unclear from the documents whether the women had consented to being drugged.

Responding to the query, Mr. Obama said there was no precedent or mechanism for revoking the Medal of Freedom. And he said he made it a general policy to not comment on the specifics of cases still in the courts.

Then he went ahead and commented anyway, in a general but thinly veiled way.

“I’ll say this,” said Obama. “If you give a woman, or a man for that matter, without his or her knowledge, a drug and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape, and I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”

It was a sudden and pointed moment.

“Obama basically used the strongest possible language he could to condemn Bill Cosby without discussing the specifics of the case,” tweeted Hunter Walker, senior political correspondent of BusinessInsider.

Ms. Farrow and many others who long have demanded an accounting for what they charge are Cosby’s crimes celebrated on social media, wondering whether the president’s words could actually have legal ramifications.

Some thought the president was too sudden and pointed, however.

It’s true that there’s a growing body of evidence against Cosby, writes Ed Morrissey at the right-leaning Hot Air. But that evidence hasn’t been fully weighed in court, he writes.

“It’s one thing for people in the media and in regular life to speculate on it. It’s another entirely for the leader of the free world to make a thinly veiled pronouncement on the case absent even the beginning of a full investigation into Cosby’s actions,” writes Mr. Morrissey.

Meanwhile, the leader of a group which has urged Obama to revoke Cosby’s Medal of Freedom expressed disappointment in the president’s lack of action on that score.

Angela Rose, executive director of Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment, said the president could issue an executive order rescinding the medal, make a personal statement that it should be rescinded, or simply ask Cosby for the medal back.

“Revoking the medal would send a powerful message to America’s youth on the critical importance of consent,” said Ms. Rose.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report

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