Sacha Baron Cohen has been racking up some free publicity for his new series, Who Is America?, thanks to a ton of pissed-off conservatives he pranked for the show. Roy Moore threatened to sue, Joe Arpaio went on a rant about hand jobs or something, and former congressman Joe Walsh tried to rationally defend why he claimed to support giving guns to toddlers on camera. But no one has drummed up more outrage about the show than Sarah Palin, who claimed to have been "duped" by Cohen while he was disguised as a "disabled vet."
"HOW DARE YOU mock those who have fought and served our country," Palin wrote in a furious Facebook post ahead of the show's premiere. "Truly sick."
Her story triggered a massive conservative backlash against the new series and even reportedly inspired a right-wing street artist to hijack an LA billboard and accuse Cohen of "stolen valor." But according to a new statement from Showtime, the controversy is completely misguided—because Palin was either full of shit or just confused.
"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?" the network wrote Monday, according to Variety. "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 the first scene from Sunday's episode, Bernie Sanders flat-out asks Cohen-as-Ruddick if he is disabled, and he says no—the character says he just rides a motor scooter to "conserve energy." Ruddick isn't dressed up in any military apparel or clothes that might make you think he was a veteran, either, unless you count that goofy bullet necklace.
Cohen never pretended to be a disabled vet, Showtime insists, echoing what Cohen's character already wrote in an open letter to Palin last week. It's unclear if Palin was just a little confused and mistook Cohen's character on a scooter for a disabled vet in a wheelchair or if she was purposefully trying to drum up anger, but in any case, the whole controversy is apparently based on little more than the fact that Palin was, in her words, "duped."
Palin has yet to respond to Showtime's new statement or offer Dr. Ruddick the apology he has so forcefully demanded, but it will be interesting to see how the show handles the controversy when it inevitably airs the Palin footage. Along with that, we still have an entire season of Who Is America? left to go, so we should probably brace for even more political shitstorms in the coming weeks.
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