News & Opinion | July 23, 2018 9:37 am

Is Sacha Baron Cohen the Left’s James O’Keefe?

They have both gotten interviews with people under false pretenses.

Sacha Baron Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen in Who Is America? (2018)

James O’Keefe is a conservative activist who has used hidden cameras and false identities to target the left, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, the community organizing group Acorn and Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, Sacha Baron Cohen is a comedian known for using outlandish characters to interview unsuspecting victims.

Cohen’s new show, Who is America, premiered last week to mixed reviews. Some people who were fooled, like former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, have criticized the show, while others have taken the pranking in stride. The show has also started a conversation about the ethics of deception. Since Cohen’s most biting sketches have been aimed at Republicans — including one about arming children with guns and another that embarrassed a Georgia legislator — people have been calling Cohen a mirror version of O’Keefe, who has taken the comparison in stride.

The Times writes that the two men use slightly different tactics. O’Keefe often uses undercover cameras, sending in people to play characters, like a pregnant woman to Planned Parenthood, to try to entrap workers into discussing improper or potentially illegal activities. O’Keefe’s participants do not know they are being filmed. This is different than Cohen’s work. O’Keefe also seems bent on tearing down institutions, not just embarrassing them. But both men have been accused of using selective editing.