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Comments: Week of August 10, 2015

1. Last issue’s cover story featured photographs by Amanda Demme and interviews by Noreen Malone with 35 of the women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault (“Thirty-Five Women, On These Pages Alone,” July 27–August 9). The feature made newspaper and television reports around the world — and even inspired a political cartoon by the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna, who wrote that the New York cover has “an accumulating power … In its silence, the display is deafening.” Many felt the sheer volume of testimony contributed to its impact. “Journalism as a way to bear witness,” tweeted Heidi N. Moore, “to shock people into seeing the truth before them.” The New York Times’ Sydney Ember spoke to one of the featured women, Patricia Leary Steuer, who told her that some of the women cried when they saw the group portrait. “She could ‘feel a sadness in the background,’ ” Ember wrote. “ ‘Nobody wants to be a member of this club,’ she said. ‘But we are.’ ” “The horrific irony presented by the article,” wrote Salon’s Scott Eric Kaufman, “is that if Cosby hadn’t raped so many women, his reputation could have remained intact.” The author Roxane Gay wrote of how difficult it was to relinquish the idea of Cosby as the “middle class, loving, imperfect” TV dad. “Whenever we learn about the misdeeds of a powerful artist or public figure, we worry over what befalls his legacy,” she wrote. “We have intellectual debates about separating art from the artist. I have participated in these debates but I can’t do it anymore. As I write this I realize that … even considering Cosby’s legacy or what he meant to me or anyone else focuses the conversation on him and the possibility of redemption instead of where it belongs — on the women he hurt, the hypocrisy, the culture that allowed his criminality to thrive.” Commenter jeanjohnson291115 thought the story “honored these women and all women. This gives them back the dignity and strength that was stolen.” Others commended the women for being brave enough to share their stories. According to Glamour’s Liz Brody, who wrote about the impact of the story, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network Hotline’s online forum saw a 15 percent increase in traffic in the days after the article’s release. “And many are referencing the Bill Cosby coverage as to why they contacted us with their own stories,” RAINN’s spokeswoman Katherine Hull Fliflet told Brody. “The stories go on,” wrote Brody, “their courage, unmistakable. And the ripple effect? More like giant waves.”

A Michael Cavna cartoon in the Washington Post.  

2. Soon after publication of the Cosby article, a group of hackers attacked New York’s website, bumping it offline for 12 hours. “Lol,” wrote the hackers on Twitter. “We ruined New York [sic] big night.” Not so: New York took to social media, using audio clips on Instagram and hosting the piece on Tumblr. “These efforts,” wrote Mashable’s Jason Abbruzzese, “kept the story in front of readers just as it was seeing widespread circulation.” According to the Nieman Lab’s Madeline Welsh, “there was a sense that this was not a story New York was going to allow to be suppressed.” Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin saw larger lessons in the counterattack: “The distributed model of publication makes journalism particularly resilient in the face of cyberattacks,” wrote Mullin. Readers agreed. “NYMag hack has shown utility of social,” tweeted Melanie Renzulli. “Can’t stop the news,” tweeted Tammy Gordon, “too many platforms to shift to.” The incident also had echoes in the story itself: As Tamara Green, one of Cosby’s accusers, said of her own story: “In 2015, we have social media. We can’t be disappeared.”

3. The issue’s cover featured the 35 women seated; a 36th chair sat empty. The chair, meant to represent the 11 other women who have accused Cosby of assault and any others who might come forward, took on a larger meaning as the conversation unfolded. Using the hashtag #TheEmptyChair, the journalist Elon James White began posting stories from women who never reported their sexual assaults. Within 24 hours, the hashtag had been used 13,000 times. “#TheEmptyChair is a chair I’ve sat in,” tweeted @ ThisisLauraS. “For all my adolescence I sat in it for fear of not being believed, or loved, because of it.” “I am done waiting for permission to speak freely,” tweeted Angela Buckland. “I suffered mental anguish for years because no one believed me when I spoke up,” tweeted @perceptiveangel. “#TheEmptyChair signals the women who couldn’t come forward mostly because we, as a culture, wouldn’t believe them,” wrote MSNBC’s Janet Mock. On NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Hanna Rosin pointed out that #TheEmptyChair doesn’t just represent the women who feel unable to speak up about their sexual assaults. “It’s also the opposite of that, which is an invitation: ‘Come sit in this chair.’ … The hashtag ‘#EmptyChair’ basically is saying, ‘All of you, it’s time to speak up now. Walk up to this chair, sit down like the rest of us. There’s a sisterhood here, waiting to greet you and share your stories.’ ”

Correction: The cover story incorrectly characterized a 2006 report by People magazine on Cosby’s accusers, which did not imply the allegations were tantamount to an elaborate shakedown.