NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In the mid to late 1980s, at the height of Comcast-owned (CMCSA - Get Report) NBC sitcom "The Cosby Show," when it dominated Nielsen ratings at No. 1, Bill Cosby was everyone's favorite cuddly TV dad, a burgeoning multi-millionaire, a media darling and an inspiration to audiences everywhere. He could do no wrong.
But, according to multiple accusers, he has, and did.Yet for 10 years, the media cowered under the weight of his celebrity status, failing to cover public allegations made in court and through outlets such as People magazine, the Today show and Howard Stern by several women in 2005 and 2006 that he drugged and assaulted them.
Cosby told the National Enquirer, then, "I am not going to give in to people who try to exploit me because of my celebrity status." The media fell silent.
Fast forward to 2014, a time ruled by Google's (GOOG - Get Report) YouTube, Vice and Buzzfeed, a time of endless Internet opinion sites and more social media than can be consumed in a lifetime, and it's clear the media discourse has changed. A comic such as Hannibal Buress can bluntly say "You rape women, Bill Cosby" during a routine stand-up bit, and the reaction is far from disapproving.
The changes in media dovetail with a case where the evidence has become overwhelming. More than 25 women - including Barbara Bowman and model Janice Dickinson, who also spoke out a decade earlier - have publicly accused Cosby of rape and assaults taking place over four decades.
With court documents obtained by The Associated Press on Monday revealing Cosby testified in 2005 to acquiring powerful sedative Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with, although he never said he actually drugged them, media coverage has reached a fever pitch.
Why, for so long, then, did media outlets fail to investigate longtime accusations against Cosby? Why was coverage scant compared to now? Chalk it up to changing societal views and media sensitivity to sexual assault and survivors' rights, plus an increased skepticism of celebrity, compounded with victims having more power than ever to rally support online.
"There's been a tremendous change in the way the media reports on sexual assault allegations, and the way the public understands them," said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization.
"Media coverage has improved dramatically, and is a lot more sensitive to victims and being fair and balanced now," he said. "There's a much greater understanding that perpetrators don't fit the old stereotype, and could be anyone, including celebrities."
So a known figure such as Cosby, revered by both TV fans and other celebrities and comics, who before went untouched, face intense scrutiny.
With the rise of Facebook, Tumblr and other social media outlets, one huge change, too, from a decade ago is that accusers have more venues to come forward and tell their stories on their own terms, said Berkowitz, instead of calling a reporter.
Plus, recent outrage over the accusations against Cosby has led to push-back from the entertainment industry unseen a decade ago. Last November, Netflix (NFLX - Get Report) halted the premiere of the Cosby comedy special "Bill Cosby 77," TV Land nixed reruns of "The Cosby Show" and NBC canceled a Cosby show in development.
"The reaction when these allegations first came out over a decade ago was that, 'We love this guy, and we so don't want this to be true, so we will choose not to believe it,'" Berkowitz said. "One difference this time is the sheer number of allegations. It's hard to dismiss woman after woman coming out with stories. There's a safety in numbers. When someone comes out, you hear from more people victimized by the same person."
Reporters have also come to understand that many perpetrators accused of rape and assault are not strangers, but someone the survivor knows and has social access to, said Berkowitz, as well as the knowledge that serial perpetrators initiate attacks because they can do it with impunity.
Even more so, the magnifying glass on celebrities and their actions is stronger than ever.
"A big change we're also seeing is the likelihood of some action, either in terms of law enforcement or general reputation damage," said Berkowitz. "Bill Cosby is probably never going to go to jail for anything, but it's become a huge part of what the country knows about him from this point forward."