Sacha Baron Cohen and CBS sued by Roy Moore

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is being sued for defamation by failed US Senate candidate Roy Moore, over Moore’s appearance in Baron Cohen’s new show Who is America?

The claim, which was filed in the District of Columbia, is also brought against CBS Corporation and its subsidiary Showtime, which were behind the show, and is for a huge $95 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

It says that Moore “suffered extreme emotional distress” as a result of “being falsely portrayed as a sex offender and paedophile” on the show.

When Moore became a Republican candidate for the Senate in Alabama in 2017, multiple women alleged that he had made unwanted advances or sexual assaults on them when he was in his thirties and they were in their teens, with the youngest being 14.  Moore denies the claims.

Moore, who is one of several US politicians to have been duped by Baron Cohen, believed that he was receiving an award for supporting Israel when he agreed to be interviewed on Who is America?

Baron Cohen appeared with Moore in the show in his persona “Colonel Erran Morad” and referred to military technology, including a device which he claimed could detect paedophiles.
It repeatedly beeped as it approached Moore, who did not react.

In a statement, Moore’s attorney Larry Klayman attacked Baron Cohen as being “not only low class but also a fraudster” and referred to the “great emotional and other damage” done to his client.
Defamation claimants in the United States generally face a more difficult task than those in England and Wales.

Where the claimant is a “public figure”, they cannot succeed unless they can show that the publisher acted with actual malice, in the sense that they knew the allegations were false, or recklessly disregarded the truth.

The First Amendment also provides powerful protection for speech, and the United States’ Supreme Court has held that public figures cannot recover damages for distress, where it was caused by a caricature, parody, or satire of the public figure that a reasonable person would not have interpreted as factual.

Whilst Moore’s claim faces some serious obstacles, nevertheless it highlights the potentially high risks involved for those in the business of satire and parody.

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