- Former co-star Phylicia Rashad says someone has an interest in keeping Cosby off the air
- Conspiracy talk came almost immediately after women began accusing him of mistreatment
- If there is a conspiracy, one writer asks, what's to be gained?
(CNN)Is somebody out to destroy the legacy of Bill Cosby?
Supporters have raised the specter of a campaign designed to topple the man who was one of Hollywood's most beloved stars and an inspiration to many.
"We are talking about a legacy that inspired a generation of young people to consider and pursue higher education," his former "Cosby Show" co-star Phylicia Rashad told ABC in an interview that aired Wednesday night. "We're talking about a legacy that introduced and portrayed American culture in its diversity. It's difficult for me to watch this legacy be erased as if it never happened."
Rashad's concerns over that legacy have been reflected among those who believe the star is being railroaded.
"The Cosby scandal bears so many earmarks that are all-too-familiar to the black psyche: contempt for black success, the taboo of black men sleeping with white women, mixed with more contemporaneous issues such as the overzealous contempt for President Barack Obama in Red State America, and the last six months of civil unrest regarding the killing of unarmed black men at the hands of police," Stereo Williams wrote in a Daily Beast story headlined "Phylicia Rashad and the Cult of Cosby Truthers."
"But at the heart of this 'Truther' conspiracy theory is the idea that 'someone' wants to destroy Bill Cosby," Williams continued. "No one seems to know who that is -- or why they would want to do such a thing. Aside from general 'They wanna bring a black man down' sentiments, there has yet to be any substantive argument for why this would be happening right now."
Rashad sees darker forces at work.
"Well, my initial reaction to the allegations was, 'Hmmm. Someone has a vested interest in preventing Mr. Cosby's return to network television,' " she told ABC.
Defenders and distractions
Certainly, the allegations that Cosby sexually assaulted women have had an effect on his reputation. Some of his concerts and appearances were canceled, and NBC pulled out of a planned Cosby show project.
For some of Cosby's defenders, his position as a famous and wealthy black American seems to be enough of a reason to believe he is the victim of a smear campaign.
And loyal Cosby fans have been willing to mix it up with people who question their opinions.
Jill Scott, who stood up for the comedian in November, had several tweets of support -- and Scott was quick to call out dissenters.
The Internet, which does like its conspiracy theories, has been fertile ground for debate over the accusations. Comic Faizon Love faced backlash in November after he went on a Twitter attack against those who said they believed the accusers, calling them "funky b***hes" and their supporters "porch monkeys."
Cosby's supporters note that so much of the controversy is based on unproven allegations. No charges have been filed against Cosby, and his attorneys have vehemently denied the allegations.
Other tweeters have floated the idea that the Cosby controversy is intended to distract from racially charged news events.
Almost as soon as the story hit came chatter that it had all been orchestrated to take attention away from media coverage of the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer.
'This is about something else'
Rashad sat down with ABC's Linsey Davis to set the record straight over a story published this week on Roger Friedman's Showbiz 411 site.
"Forget these women," she had been quoted as saying of the more than 20 women who have accused Cosby of such crimes as drugging and rape
Rashad said that, as a woman, she would never say such a thing.
"That was a misquote. That is not what I said," Rashad explained. "What I said is, 'This is not about the women. This is about something else. This is about the obliteration of legacy.' "
Friedman has since clarified his story, saying that although he didn't misquote Rashad, "she didn't mean for it to be taken the way it was, and I should have punctuated."
"There was NEVER the meaning in 'Forget those women' that she was saying to actually forget or dismiss then," Friedman wrote. "She meant, 'those women aside' -- as in, she's not talking about that, she's talking about Cosby's legacy being destroyed."
Rashad bristled at a question on whether she had something to gain by seeking to protect Cosby's legacy, since she is also so closely tied to "The Cosby Show." The longer a show is on the air, she explained, the less money an actor receives in residuals.
"Cosby Show" castmate Keshia Knight-Pulliam also supported Cosby. The actress, who played youngest daughter Rudy, told Access Hollywood, "Whoever is involved, those are the people who were there. I wasn't there."
She added, "I can only speak to the great man that I know and love, who has been so generous, who has been such a philanthropist and giving back millions of dollars to education and schools. And just the man I grew up knowing. It's really not my place to speak on that. Unfortunately, in the court of public opinion, everyone has formed their opinion, but we're still in America, and you're innocent until proven guilty of any crimes."