The White House may be forced to formally wade into the controversy swirling around comedian Bill Cosby.
A petition posted on their website Wednesday by Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), a sexual assault prevention and awareness group, is calling on the White House to revoke the comedian’s Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award, which is the highest civilian honor bestowed in the U.S., was given to Cosby by President George W. Bush in 2002.
Cosby has been dogged by over two dozen allegations of drugging and sexual assault that span multiple decades. Although he has never been charged with a crime and has denied the accusations, recently unearthed 2005 deposition testimony revealed that he admitted under oath to procuring Quaaludes in the 1970s for the purpose of seducing young women for sex outside of his marriage. Although Presidential Medal of Freedom awards have been given to polarizing figures like Donald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger in the past, there has never been an example of one being revoked after the fact.
“Certainly it would be an unprecedented event to take this away,” Angela Rose, the founder of PAVE, told USA Today. “But it’s also an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history that such an iconic figure, a legend, be accused by 40 women of sexual violence. We cannot yet give his accusers their day in court, but we can fight back in the court of public opinion.”
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked about the prospect of taking away Cosby’s honor. He said he hadn’t heard of any internal discussions about taking that step, but reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to addressing the issue of sexual assault. “I don’t know whether or not it’s legally possible to do so,” Earnest added.
Still, if the petition garners 100,000 signatories the White House will be forced to give a more formal response based on guidelines established by the White House in 2013. This hasn’t prevented unorthodox requests from reaching that threshold. Last year, a “Deport Justin Bieber” petition garnered over 100,000 supporters and the White House had to weigh in.
As of this report, the total for PAVE’s petition has reached 1,800 and counting, which means its backers have a long way to go before an official White House statement on Cosby’s medal will be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Cosby’s stature in the entertainment industry is continuing to take serious hits. NBC News has confirmed that Cosby and the talent agency CAA parted ways last December amid renewed coverage of allegations against him, Disney World recently removed a bust of Cosby from their Hall of Fame plaza, and singer Jill Scott, who had previously been one of the comedian’s most high-profile defenders, retracted her support earlier this week.
And that’s not all. One of his accusers is calling for all of his 2005 deposition testimony to be released to the public. His attorneys had fought the unsealing of the court documents, calling them “terribly embarrassing,” and arguing that they served “no legitimate public interest.” But U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno ruled against them in part because he believed the 77-year-old comedian had “donned the mantle of public moralist and mounted the proverbial electronic or print soap box to volunteer his views on, among other things, childrearing, family life, education, and crime.”
Cosby’s representatives are expected to make an official statement about the fallout from his unsealed testimony on Thursday.