Roy Moore has sued actor Sacha Baron Cohen, Showtime, and CBS for defamation related to his appearance in a segment of Cohen’s cable show Who Is America? Moore believed he had been invited to Washington, D.C., to receive an award from Israel, and was being interviewed by an Israeli anti-terrorism expert, Col. Erran Morad, which was Cohen performing in character. The show aired on Showtime, part of CBS.
Moore asked the court for $95 million in damages, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs.
During the interview for a non-existent television network in Israel, Cohen pulled out a metal “detect a pedophile” wand, which he said was used in schools and playgrounds, and waved it over Moore. It beeped. Moore then ended the interview saying, “I support Israel. I do not support this kind of stuff.”
Cohen has been sued before, but he has prevailed in nearly every case, as he has guests sign comprehensive releases against defamation. These releases override any false representations made. In the lawsuit, Moore’s attorneys reference a release, but claim it was “obtained through fraud” and thus not valid. Cohen’s work also often has a component of social or political commentary, strongly evident in Who Is America?, which provides additional defense.
Most of Cohen’s targets are public figures, who have a higher bar to win a defamation suit. The Supreme Court decision operative here requires actual malice, not merely falsehoods.
The lawsuit also cites damages to Moore’s wife, Kayla, and “his entire family.”
Defamation, depending on the U.S. state in which the act allegedly occurs, may require a false statement or putting someone in a false light. However Cohen cleverly let many guests on his show hoist themselves by their own petard: It was their own statements or actions that were problematic, and which de facto cannot be defamatory against themselves. Moore’s appearance, it could be ruled, was more a prank.
Moore, a Republican, failed in his run last year for a Senate seat in Alabama, with a Democrat defeating him with a slim lead. During the campaign, several women came forward with stories of sexual assault or unwanted romantic attention from decades before. Two of the accusers were underage at the time of the alleged contact. Moore has variously denied knowing any of the women and specifically rejected some of their accounts.
A defamation lawsuit must involve false representations, but even if those are proven, the plaintiff has to have a reputation that can be tarnished as a result. The lawsuit cites the damage in part as accusing Moore of being a pedophile and of “committing a serious crime.” As a public figure, Moore would need to prove that Cohen didn’t believe Moore was a pedophile. Also, Moore was twice removed from his position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court due to violations of judicial ethics.
Were the case to come to trial, Cohen’s and the network’s lawyers could also engage to prove to the satisfaction of a civil court, which has lower standards of evidence than a criminal one, that a preponderance of evidence indicated the allegations of pedophilia against Moore were accurate.