Soon enough, Borat bursts into the room, exclaiming, “She 15. She too old for you. She my daughter, please, take me instead.” (The actress, per IMDb, is 24.) The Kazakh characters’ plan had been to garner the American government’s favor by presenting Tutar as a “gift” to a Trump ally — hence the film’s impossibly long subtitle, “Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” Cohen’s ploy had been to expose Giuliani’s potentially compromising behavior in such a situation.
On Twitter, Giuliani called Cohen a “stone-cold liar” for implying (via the film’s hidden camera footage) that he had behaved inappropriately. The former mayor claimed to have been tucking his shirt in after removing the microphone, adding that he called the police back in July after realizing he had been “set up.” He isn’t the first political figure to be duped by Cohen (nor is he the only one to respond publicly). Shall we revisit the incident with Roy Moore, the former Republican Senate candidate from Alabama? Sarah Palin, the former Alaskan governor and vice-presidential candidate? Richard B. Cheney, an actual vice president?
The British comedian’s history of tricking famous people on camera dates back to “Da Ali G Show,” a Channel 4 series that jumped to HBO in 2003. Posing as English gangster Ali G, Cohen tried to convince Trump, then just a business man and reality television personality, to invest in an “ice cream glove” (which is exactly what it sounds like). As The Washington Post’s Bethonie Butler noted in an article on Cohen’s interviews, he also asked Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA, about how to punish suicide bombers.
Though then-president George W. Bush wasn’t directly involved in the prank, Cohen also notably butchered the national anthem in 2006′s “Borat,” pretending to be the fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev at a Virginia rodeo while calling on Bush to “drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq.”
Several of Cohen’s most memorable political targets were featured in “Who Is America?,” the recent Showtime series in which he made a mockery of American politics while sporting new disguises. Some of the show’s bits were less than successful — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for instance, didn’t take the bait — but those that landed did so with great impact and, in the cases of Moore and another, resulted in legal action.
In July 2018, a few months after The Post won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on Moore’s alleged past sexual harassment of teenage girls, an episode of “Who Is America?” aired in which Cohen used a fake pedophile detector on the former Senate candidate. Moore has stated that he flew to Washington to “receive an award for my strong support of Israel,” and in the episode sits down to speak with someone he believes to be an Israeli anti-terrorism expert named Gen. Erran Morad. Cohen-as-Morad pulls out a wand toward the end of their chat and refers to it as “the latest Israeli gadget.” The pedophile detector beeps each time he waves it past Moore (who denies the accusations and tells Morad he has been married for 33 years).
“I did not know Sacha Cohen or that a Showtime TV series was being planned to embarrass, humiliate, and mock not only Israel, but also religious conservatives such as Sarah Palin, Joe Walsh, and Dick Cheney,” Moore said in a statement released ahead of the episode. He went on to sue Cohen, CBS and Showtime for $95 million, claiming defamation and “extreme emotional distress.” The case is still pending.
Palin similarly flew to meet with Cohen, believing she had been offered a “legit opportunity” to honor military veterans by appearing in a Showtime documentary. Though the former governor never appeared in the show — Cohen said the footage “just wasn’t funny enough” — she wrote on Facebook that she had encountered a fake veteran and “sat through a long ‘interview’ full of Hollywoodism’s disrespect and sarcasm.”
The Facebook post arrived days after Cohen teased a clip of Cheney signing a waterboarding kit for Morad, who interviewed him about the brutal interrogation techniques employed by the CIA during the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” In the “Who Is America?” episode, Cheney says, “Well, that’s a first.”
In another, Morad asks politicians if they will support his “Kinder Guardians” program to teach schoolchildren as young as preschoolers how to handle guns (as opposed to the National Rifle Association’s proposal to arm teachers). Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is skeptical: “You want me to say on television that I support 3- and 4-year-olds with firearms?” he asks Morad, who responds with an affirmative. “Typically members of Congress don’t just hear a story about programming and indicate whether they support it or not.”
Of course, Cohen manages to convince several others to do exactly that. The segment cuts to a video of current and former congressmen expressing support for Kinder Guardians, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate majority leader from Mississippi. Joe Walsh, the former Republican representative from Illinois, describes the program introducing “children from 12 to 4 years old to pistols, rifles, semiautomatics and a rudimentary knowledge of mortars.”
“In less than a month — less than a month — a first-grader can become a first grenade-er,” he says in the video, closing it out with: “Happy shooting, kids.” Walsh later told The Post’s Aaron Blake that he was also invited to Washington to accept an award for his support of Israel, and that he was under the impression that Kinder Guardians was “specifically about a program that Israel does.”
A hefty amount of fictionalizing goes into each of Cohen’s setups, but the shock value comes from how people behave in those situations. In response to Giuliani calling the “Borat” scene a “compete fabrication,” Cohen said on “Good Morning America” that everyone can watch and “make your own mind up.”
“I would say that if the president’s lawyer found what he did there [to be] appropriate behavior, then heaven knows what he’s done with other female journalists in hotel rooms,” Cohen said. “It is what it is. He did what he did.”