Sacha Baron Cohen: Questions of Ethics and Integrity

Most famous for this Borat movies, Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again. He has a new Showtime series, "Who Is America?," and pranks mostly people with conservative political views. Impersonating something who might favor his target's position, he gets people to make embarrassing statements and do humiliating acts.

On a recent episode, Cohen convinced a gun-rights advocate to bite on a sex toy. (I didn't watch it.) Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was duped recently and wrote a scathing Facebook post, calling Cohen “evil, exploitative and sick." For her interview, Cohen impersonated someone who appeared to Palin to be a disabled war veteran.

His strategy is to make people vulnerable: by impersonating someone who appears to be a person in need or a supporter, he lowers the interviewee's defenses so they are more easily humiliated.

Cohen's stunts remind me that companies send employees to impersonate customers to get competitive data. Or maybe this is a stretch?

Cover image.


  • What's your view of Cohen's work: mean, exploitative, demeaning, clever, funny, or something else?
  • Now consider his work using two frameworks: ethical decision making and integrity. How do his interviews measure up?
  • What about my analogy to getting competitive data? What are the similarities and differences? Have you been asked by a company to use this tactic? Did you comply? Why or why not? It's a common practice.