By Judy Kurtz
A former White House aide says it’s “unlikely” Bill Cosby’s Presidential Medal of Freedom will be rescinded, despite the flurry of sexual misconduct allegations against the famed comedian.
“I don’t think it’s ever happened, and it’s probably unlikely to happen, but there’s no precedent for it,” Aram Bakshian, who served under Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, tells ITK. Bakshian was responsible for the in-house selection process for Medal of Freedom recipients while working for the Reagan administration.
Although Cosby's public backlash led NBC to nix a planned sitcom starring "America's TV Dad," Bakshian, a former speechwriter, predicts President Obama wouldn’t want to wade into the issue of taking the honor away from “The Cosby Show” star. “It’s not that a lot of people would be defending Cosby, but I think [the Obama administration’s] got other battles they want to fight first.
“It’s not that a lot of people would be defending Cosby, but I think [the Obama administration’s] got other battles they want to fight first," he says.
Obama is poised to present awards to this year's 19 Medal of Freedom recipients Monday at the White House, including Tom Brokaw, Meryl Streep, Stevie Wonder, Marlo Thomas.
There’s no formal procedure for retracting a Medal of Freedom, Bakshian says, because the issue simply has never come up. “I’m not even sure that a subsequent president would have the authority, especially on the basis of accusations — but you know we haven’t gotten to the point where [Cosby has been] found guilty of a crime,” Bakshian explains.
But, the longtime GOP White House staffer quips, “The current president isn’t too big on procedure, obviously, judging by the number of executive orders he’s been giving. But I’m not even sure the Medal of Freedom would be covered that way.”
During the 2002 ceremony, Cosby was lauded, with an announcer noting his “good-natured humor has always appealed to our common humanity, helping to bring people together through laughter,” and calling him a “truly outstanding American.”
“The analogous thing is, although it should be given to people of high moral character, it’s awarded for aspects of their work or contributions,” Bakshian says of the Medal of Freedom. “Similarly, you would almost have to prove that their work or contribution — that it wasn’t Cosby on his TV series — that you could have a technical reason for rescinding it.”
While allegations against Cosby have swirled around the actor for more than a decade, — with one woman claiming in a 2000 police report that the sitcom star groped her — Bakshian says he would have noted any potential red flags about Medal of Freedom recipients before handing them off for approval, “I always took a close look at everybody who was suggested, not just what they were famous for, but if there were any potential ethical questions.”
Although Bakshian indicates rescinding the prestigious honor is likely a long shot, he’s not completely ruling it out, saying, “It’s never happened, so we’re talking about totally unknown territory.”