Obama Won't Revoke Bill Cosby Medal, But He Will Tell You What 'Rape' Means

At Wednesday's press conference on the Iran nuclear deal, April Ryan took a detour into the Bill Cosby rape allegations, and President Obama demurred on whether he would revoke the comic's Medal of Freedom, but gave a brief lesson on rape culture.
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At Wednesday's press conference on the Iran nuclear deal, April Ryan took a detour into the Bill Cosby rape allegations, and President Obama demurred on whether he would revoke the comic's Medal of Freedom, but gave a brief lesson on rape culture.
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On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama held a press conference in order to handle objections to the now-finalized Iran nuclear deal, and while almost everyone stayed on topic, AURN's April Ryan continued to press the issue of Bill Cosby's Medal of Freedom. Awarded to the comedy icon in 2002 by George W. Bush, the White House has thus far studiously avoided answering even the simple question of whether the President even could revoke the medal (he can, by executive order), let alone whether he would.

The revocation of the medal, however richly deserved, would potentially set a precedent whereby such honors could then become retroactive political footballs, so it's no wonder the White House doesn't want to set it. President Obama responded to Ryan's question by, again, noting the absence of precedent and citing, as predicted, potential litigation as the reason not to comment on Cosby's specific case, but he left open the question of whether such an action would be legal.

But the President, obviously cognizant of the concerns raised by recent coverage of the latest Cosby revelations, did make a potent statement about the ways in which rapes like the ones Cosby is accused of are talked about:

"There's no precedent for revoking a medal. We don't have that mechanism. And as you know, I tend to make it a policy not to comment on the specifics of cases where there might still be, if not criminal, then civil issues involved. I'll say this, 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."

Following revelations that Cosby admitted, in a deposition, to certain elements of the accusations against him, there was a lot of consternation over headlines like the Associated Press' "Cosby said he got drugs to give women for sex," because they seemed to validate the idea that drugging a woman, without her knowledge, and violating her while incapacitated, constitutes "sex." Upon closer examination, the AP was reporting what Cosby admitted to, which did not specify the presence or absence of consent or foreknowledge, a distinction that's tough to cram in a headline, but which bears the kind of clarification President Obama made.

The White House Cosby petition has almost 11,000 signatures, so the White House may still have to release a formal response at some point, but given the President's remarks at the press conference, this is likely the final answer.