7:30pm PT by Jean Bentley
Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Who Is America?' Targets Dick Cheney, Ted Koppel, 'Bachelor' Alum in Week 2
After targeting Bernie Sanders, Joe Walsh and more politicians in the first episode of his new Showtime satirical comedy Who Is America, Sacha Baron Cohen introduced a new character and went after a new group of people — including a Georgia state representative who used racist slurs and a Bachelor alum who filmed a PSA supporting the arming of child soldiers — in its second half-hour.
Here's who he duped in Week 2:
Target: Dick Cheney
Character: Col. Erran Morad
What Happened: The biggest moment teased before the Who Is America? premiere was the former vp signing what Baron Cohen's character referred to as a "waterboarding kit" (which went up for sale on eBay). It turns out the full segment also included Morad asking Cheney which of the wars he started was his favorite (the first Gulf war, for those wondering).
Response: None as of air.
Target: Ted Koppel
Character: Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., PhD
What Happened: As his conspiracy theorist Trump-supporter character, Baron Cohen interrogated Koppel about Trump's inauguration but the veteran newsman walked out when Ruddick refused to acknowledge basic facts, like the sun would have set in a photo that was taken in Washington, D.C., after 11 p.m.
Response: Koppel detailed his experience for The Hollywood Reporter before the series premiered.
Target: Corinne Olympios, The Bachelor alum
Character: Gio Monaldo
What Happened: Purporting to be an Italian fashion photographer, Baron Cohen convinced Olympios to lie about spending time in Africa helping child soldiers and then to film a PSA encouraging people to donate money not to save child soldiers, but to arm them. "Remember, when you launch a grenade, you launch a dream."
Response: Olympios described how she was duped into doing the interview, telling Entertainment Weekly she was told she was getting an award from a U.K. TV company for Reality Star of the Year and arrived for an interview with Baron Cohen, in character, in October. “Long story short I do the last segment off a teleprompter,” she said, in part. "I don't even know what I'm reading, I'm so pissed off. It was about children and guns. I was really upset when I was reading it. Then [Cohen] started randomly rambling on about how I should come to his castle in Italy. I was like, 'I'm not coming to your castle in Italy. Let me out.'"
Target: Jason Spencer, Georgia state representative
Character: Col. Erran Morad
What Happened: Spencer, who made national headlines for introducing a bill to ban covering the face in public (known colloquially as a "Burqa Ban") and for threatening a fellow state representative who advocates for the removal of confederate statues, met with Baron Cohen for a segment about self-defense. The first move involved taking an upskirt photo of a purported terrorist's genitals with a selfie stick, which he was supposed to do by pretending he was Chinese (because, according to the character, the Chinese use selfie sticks most often). Spencer launched into racist babble ("ching chong," "konichiwa," "Ho Chi Minh" and some more real but not Chinese words, too). The second task involved screaming "the N-word" to intimidate a potential terrorist (after Spencer screamed "n—er," Morad told him it was the wrong N-word). The third involved Spencer, goaded by Morad, "using his buttocks to intimidate ISIS," which ended with Spencer dropping his pants and backing into Morad, threatening that his bare butt would turn him gay. A final scene featured a message from Spencer directly to terrorists (whom he called "sand n—ers") threatening to cut their genitals off.
Response: In a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution days before the segment aired, Spencer said Baron Cohen "fraudulently induced me in participating in bogus self-defense and anti-terrorism training," and that he "was told the video was intended to be an educational aid to train elected officials who may be targeted by terrorists." He continued, "They exploited my state of mind for profit and notoriety. This media company’s deceptive and fraudulent behavior is exactly why President Donald Trump was elected. Furthermore, there are sensitive parts of this training that took place under a kidnapping scenario where I was repeatedly asked to shout provocative language which I requested be removed, but I was not afforded that opportunity to have final approval over footage used that was initially extended to me by the filmmakers. It is clear the makers of this film intended to deceive me in an attempt to undermine the American conservative political movement; therefore, I have sought legal counsel to challenge this illegal and unethical behavior and plan on taking action if and when any of this fraudulently obtained footage of me is used by these Hollywood liberals to line their own pockets." After the episode aired, in response to calls for his recognition, Spencer issued an apology but said he planned to serve out the remaining five months of his term until vacating his seat.
Target: Kingman, Ariz., residents
Character: Dr. Nira Cain-N'Degeocello
What Happened: Baron Cohen's ultra-liberal character gathered a group of people from the small town of Kingman, Ariz., to a meeting purporting to be about a financial opportunity — construction of a new mosque. Many townspeople became so upset they walked out, and explicitly told Baron Cohen they didn't want Muslims or even black people in their town at all.
Response: In January, local paper the Mojave Daily News quoted some residents who took part in the "focus group" before Cohen's involvement was known. "I think they were trying to piss us off, just for reactions, because the stuff they were stating was just absurd," said one who declined to be identified." Added resident Venessa Mudge: “He showed pictures of our town with business signs photoshopped into Muslim languages. He used many trigger statements like the Muslims would be protected from regular citizens to make sure there were no terror attacks from us." She also said she thought it was a "setup" at the time and tried to warn others: "We even tried pointing out to those around us to stop playing into the speaker's hands by responding because it was all a setup. So many members responded with hate, some with blatant racism and a whole lot of ignorance."
Who Is America? airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.