12:03pm PT by Jackie Strause
Duped Congressman Calls Sacha Baron Cohen Interview "a Sick Fraud"
Another Republican congressman pranked by Sacha Baron Cohen is explaining his participation in a now-widely seen PSA to arm toddlers on the new Showtime series Who Is America?
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California was among a handful of Republican lawmakers that were duped into endorsing a fictional Israeli program that would teach children, ages 4 through 12, how to use guns in response to the growing number of school shootings. Baron Cohen launched his satire series with the 10-minute gag during Sunday's premiere episode, posing as an Israeli anti-terror expert named Col. Erran Morad. While in character, the comedian appeared to easily convince Rohrabacher, among others, to participate in the fake PSA.
Rohrabacher only appeared in the cut-together final video and his interview with Baron Cohen was never shown. Now, the congressman is saying he was never interviewed by Baron Cohen and that his apparent endorsement of the program to arm children is "false news."
"Cohen’s people apparently used footage from an interview I submitted to earlier this year for a bogus Israeli television company supposedly celebrating the country’s 70th anniversary," said Rohrabacher in a statement Monday, referencing the already reported story of how Baron Cohen and his team lured his unsuspecting interviewees. "In that interview, which was not with Cohen, I spoke broadly of training young people at a responsible age in self-defense. At no time did I endorse training toddlers in handling guns. Nor was the idea even presented to me directly. If it had been, I would have rejected it."
He added, "In school shootings, the standard response is 'Run, hide, fight,' in that order. My response was perfectly consistent with that. I love good satire, but good satire must reveal some basis in truth. This was fraud, a sick fraud at that, and its intention was to deceive the American people for political purposes."
During the PSA for the "Kinderguardians" course — which Showtime released early as some of the only pre-promotion for the top-secret series — Rohrabacher says: "Maybe having young people trained and understand how to defend themselves in their school might actually make us safer here." (Watch the segment below.)
After Rohrabacher's participation in the Who Is America? PSA, his Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election, Harley Rouda, condemned the incumbent. "His willingness to promote a non-existent 'children’s gun program' proves his commitment to the NRA over our Nation’s safety," Rouda tweeted. "His gullibility, lack of due diligence, and weakness is exactly why Vladimir Putin adopted him decades ago." Rouda also issued a campaign press release.
Since the show's Sunday premiere, Showtime and producers have issued only one statement in response to the outrage from some program participants after a hijacked Hollywood billboard appeared to spread misinformation about one of Baron Cohen's characters.
Joe Wilson, Republican congressman from South Carolina, and Joe Walsh, talk show host and former Republican congressman from Illinois, have also spoken out since being subjects in the "Kinderguardians" gag. Wilson said in a statement that he was targeted due to his support of Israel and Walsh took ownership for the words he says he read off a teleprompter. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida was the only one in the group who refused to participate, and he later applauded the comedian "bringing his mastery level of deception to Washington."
Who Is America? marks the return of the Borat and Ali G star with a slew of new characters in an attempt to deliver Baron Cohen's unique satirical take on America's divided landscape. Ahead of its premiere, some critics wondered if the series — which targets politicians on both sides of the aisle — could end political careers. The premiere episode has been watched by 1 million viewers across all platforms and including repeat airings, according to Showtime.