NORRISTOWN — About a half hour before the Bill Cosby trial’s opening gavel, the courtroom deputy told everyone to squeeze. The Montgomery County Courthouse was being pushed to its limits, and eight members of the media or public had to fit in every snug row.
The circus had begun. While the numerous hearings preceding Cosby’s trial on sexual assault charges stemming from a 2004 incident involving former Temple University employee Andrea Constand have been largely attended by local media, the main event has brought out some 150 credentialed outlets.
Pennsylvania has seen media circuses around major cases before — the Jerry Sandusky trial was five years ago this month — but the Cosby trial has a different feel. This isn’t just for American news media. A handful of international outlets are covering the case, and Hollywood is here, too, lending and, given Cosby’s celebrity, some of the Hollywood feel reminiscent of the infamous OJ Simpson trial.
And all of this — Hollywood, major TV networks, the biggest in national media — is centered on a courthouse atop a small hill in Norristown.
This morning, a CNN van was parked at the bottom of that hill, on Main Street. If you walked farther up the block you’d pass not only several local TV trucks but Fox News and NBC News, too. Those networks, as well as, CBS News, were stationed on a dais and giving reports during breaks in the action. Dozens of photographers waited for Cosby and his retinue to move around the courtroom.
Reporters have come from all over. About 150 have been credentialed between TV, online and print media, many of them representing outlets from beyond the United States, like Marc Pitzke.
He’s covering the trial for Der Spiegel, Germany’s equivalent of Time. Pitzke said everybody watched “The Cosby Show” in Germany, too, and the case has spurred intense interest there.
Other international outlets with reporters here include The Australian and several British newspapers, like the Times of London and The Guardian. They joined American heavyweights like The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Hollywood had a similarly strong contingent. Cosby himself walked into the courtroom with Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played the character Rudy on “The Cosby Show.” People and Deadline Hollywood have reporters covering the case. Esquire hired Robert Huber to freelance. A longtime writer for Philly Mag, Huber wrote one of the first in depth articles featuring women accusing Cosby of sexual assault in 2006.
Cosby’s case has attracted media mainly because of Bill Cosby’s fame. But the element of sexual assault and the evolving nature of how accusers have been treated has also piqued interest. Anne Kingston has written extensively about the subject for Macleans in Canada. She’s here from Toronto, which also happens to be the residence of Constand.
With celebrity, sexual assault and a man who represented the definition of family life in the crosshairs, suburban Philly has become a stage.
“It’s not just a national story,” Kingston said. “It’s a timeless story.”