Showtime has issued a statement slamming critics of Sacha Baron Cohen as spreading fake— um, “widespread misinformation.”
In an unusual statement from the network, Showtime pushed back on claims that one of the comedian’s latest characters is a disabled veteran.
“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,” read the statement. “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.”
Palin led the charge against the Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr. character after outing herself as being duped by Baron Cohen last Tuesday and was the first to say he was posing as a disabled veteran — or, at least, that’s how his costume appeared to her. Conservatives have blasted Showtime and Baron Cohen for apparent “stolen valor.” On Monday, a billboard in Hollywood for Showtime parent company CBS Corp.’s Young Sheldon was papered over by a street artist with a mock Who Is America? ad also alleging the military impersonation claim.
Showtime’s statement is rather odd given its timing, however. The network was contacted repeatedly by news outlets about Palin and other “duped” claims and replied to all requests with “no comment.” The network could have cleared up such “misinformation” before it became “widespread” by noting that “Dr. Ruddick” was not a military veteran character a week ago.
Here’s a clip of the character talking to Sen. Bernie Sanders so you can better judge for yourself:
The premiere episode reviews were a bit all over the map, with EW’s Darren Franich delivering a C+ verdict. Who Is America? airs Sunday nights on Showtime.