The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award bestowed on civilians for their contributions to society, was awarded to Cosby by President George W. Bush in 2002. A petition, launched this week on the White House’s We The People site by a group calling itself Promoting Awareness/Victim Empowerment, has over 5,000 signatures collected. Petitions collecting 1ooK signatures within a month are guaranteed a White House response.
This petition got a big vote of support this afternoon from U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, (D-NY), joining Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who’d endorsed the effort earlier this week.
Dozens of women have accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them over the years. He was dropped by CAA late last year, per insiders at the agency – long before court documents unsealed Monday revealed Cosby testified in 2005 to obtaining Quaaludes with the intention of giving them to women in order to have sex with them.
Asked by reporters about the Cosby controversy during Wednesday’s briefing, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said “he didn’t know if it was legally possible” for the president to take back the medal. And Earnest declined to comment on whether the President believes the medal should be revoked. The petition forces that issue. Additionally, the nonprofit group that started the petition, Promoting Awareness/Victim Empowerment, has listed several ways Obama could retrieve the medal from Cosby: issue an executive order rescinding it, make a personal statement on the issue, or formally ask Cosby to return the medal.
In a statement, PAVE executive director Angela Rose said “it is vital the President take this opportunity to send a message about the critical importance of consent.”
Meanwhile, a bronze bust of Cosby was removed from Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park on Tuesday night, but The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has said it will not remove Cosby’s star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The petition to take back Cosby’s medal would not be the first time The White House has been petitioned to weigh in on an industry controversy.
In January of 2014, the Obama administration responded to the controversy that erupted from a segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live in which a child giggled during a taped interview that the way to deal with the country’s debt to China was to kill everyone in China. After that petition on the same White House site hit 100K signatures, the White House reminded everyone that a 6-year-old’s response to the question of how the U.S. should repay its $1.3 trillion debt to China is First Amendment-protected free speech and reminded the signers ABC had removed the skit from future broadcasts and taken the clip down from online platforms, while Kimmel already had apologized on-air and issued a written apology. The White House also reminded signers the President had stated publicly that the United States welcomes the continuing peaceful rise of China, and that the comments they were writing about do not reflect mainstream views of China in the United States.
And, a petition in ’13, calling for the deportation of CNN’s British primetime anchor Piers Morgan, was among those that so quickly hit the previous threshold of 25,000 signature needed to trigger White House response, that the White House raised the number of petition signers required to 100K.