- - Saturday, July 14, 2018


Veterans and their advocates have expressed outrage over comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen impersonating a wheelchair-bound wounded warrior to trick former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin into a mock interview for his new satirical series on the Showtime premium cable network.

“It takes my breath away,” said Melissa Jarboe, founder of the Military Veteran Project and widow of Staff Sgt. Jamie Jarboe, calling the stunt “malicious and deceitful.”

“Veterans aren’t necessarily a protected class, but severely wounded veterans?” said Mrs. Jarboe, who founded her group to curb military suicides. “You should respect yourself enough not to have to do this.”

Dan McClinton, a 24-year Army combat veteran, said he’s not easily offended, but this stunt struck him as an exception.

“Approaching this woman, who is the mother of a veteran and representing yourself as being wounded in combat in order to try and get a laugh, is going a bit too far,” Mr. McClinton said. “If they had any class, they would apologize to everyone involved. But if they had class, they wouldn’t have considered doing this in the first place.”

Mr. Cohen has made a career of pretending to be someone else to conduct phony interviews with public figures and ordinary people. He faked his way to success as a street-wise journalist in the HBO series “Da Ali G Show,” a dense Kazakh reporter in the 2006 feature film “Borat” and as an over-the-top gay Austrian fashion journalist in 2009’s “Bruno.”

For his new Showtime series “”Who Is America?,” the British satirist targeted Mrs. Palin as a wounded military veteran in a wheelchair with an unusual set of questions for the former vice-presidential candidate. The show debuts Sunday at 10 p.m. ET.

Mrs. Palin shared her encounter with Mr. Cohen via Facebook. She said he tricked her into flying across country to appear on camera for what she was told would be a “legit Showtime historical documentary.” She described what ensued as an odd, insulting conversation which she left before the production wrapped.

“Yup — we were duped. Ya’ got me, Sacha. Feel better now? I join a long list of American public personalities who have fallen victim to the evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor’ of the British ‘comedian’ Sacha Baron Cohen, enabled and sponsored by CBS/Showtime,” Mrs. Palin wrote on Facebook.

She also said the show’s production team made her miss a plane back to Alaska … on purpose … by driving her to the incorrect D.C.-area airport.

Mrs. Palin later demanded that Showtime share proceeds from the show with real military veterans.

On Monday, Showtime issued a statement: “There has been widespread misinformation over the past week about the character of Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., Ph.D., performed by Sacha Baron Cohen on the SHOWTIME comedy series WHO IS AMERICA? Baron Cohen did not present himself as a disabled veteran, and viewers nationwide who watched the premiere on Sunday can now attest to that.

“In Sunday’s episode, during an interview with Senator Bernie Sanders, Baron Cohen in character as Dr. Ruddick was asked by the Senator if he is disabled, and he stated that he is not and uses a mobility scooter to conserve his energy.

“In addition, Baron Cohen never presented himself as a veteran of the U.S. military to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin during the booking process or during the filming of her interview, and contrary to her claims he did not appear in a wheelchair. In both the interview with Governor Palin and the interview with Senator Sanders, he did not wear military apparel of any kind.”

Commenting before the show’s debut and Showtime’s statement, John Fenzel, a retired Army special forces officer, said there’s little funny about Mr. Cohen’s latest shtick.

“Sadly, impersonating a veteran isn’t anything new for those who have never served, sacrificed or placed their own lives on the line,” Mr. Fenzel said. “It has the effect of cheapening the service of those who have raised their right hand and chosen to fight for our country.”

The fact that the comedian pretended to be a disabled veteran is “reprehensible,” he added, saying that Mr. Cohen likely has never set foot in a military hospital where sick and dying soldiers receive treatment. “But he should,” Mr. Fenzel said.

Scott Huesing, a retired Marine office and author of “Echo in Ramadi,” said he wanted to see the piece in its entirety before weighing in on the matter. But he said Mr. Cohen targeted not only Mrs. Palin but also veterans with the stunt.

“He was using the right bait to land the fish he wanted to get in the boat on this trip … Palin,” Mr. Huesing said, applauding Mr. Cohen for coloring “outside the lines” to evoke a reaction from his audience.

“Anytime the mainstream is talking about vets, in jest or not, it’s keeping the discussion going,” he added.

Also commenting before the debut, Debbie Manzanares, an Army veteran, said Showtime should be embarrassed to have permitted such a spectacle.

“We live in a world where nothing is off limits — not our families, our President, our war heroes, children, and parents. And honestly that is not a great place to be,” said Ms. Manzanares, who is a member of the National Guard and has served her country for 30 years.

“Mocking disabled veterans is disgusting no matter what your country you are from even for show business. Do we have any boundaries left in the name of show business?”

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