Who is America and the Ethics of Going Undercover


Actor Sacha Baron Cohen (image courtesy of Joella Marano)

As a liberal, I’m glad to see Sacha Baron Cohen expose the corruption, hatred, craziness, and racism of many conservative NRA loving politicians and people. For example, Cohen enticed a Republican Georgia state representative, Jason Spencer, to yell the full N-word and pull down his pants to expose his naked butt to try to repel a hypothetical Muslim terrorist. Spencer eventually resigned due to the incident.
At first, I was really excited about the show and urged my fellow liberal friends to watch Cohen’s Showtime program “Who is America?” I thought it was really funny and it showed how dumb, gullible, and scary these conservatives were.
While Cohen’s exposing these true feelings are valuable, his undercover and deceptive techniques are disturbing. Basically, he is engaging in entrapping people to participate in idiotic made up situations and conversations that make them look bad. This is nothing new for Cohen, who has used his various characters, including Borat, Bruno, and Ali G to embarrass and expose people. In his current show, he has duped, among others, Dick Cheney, who gleefully signed a waterboarding kit, several Republican politicians who were duped into talking positively about a made up proposal to arm kindergartners with guns to defend against school shootings, Roy Moore, who tested positive to Cohen’s fake pedophile detector, and several dozen citizens at a town meeting in Kingman, Arizona, who responded to a fake proposed giant mosque in town with angry bigoted responses. While Cohen does target all types of people, his main focus has been on Republicans and conservatives.
There is a long history of using undercover techniques in entertainment, journalism, and advocacy. Past television shows using these techniques include Candid Camera, Undercover Boss, To Catch a Predator, Mystery Diners, Celebrity Undercover, Cheaters, Impractical Jokers, Punk’d, The Real Wedding Crashers, and What Would You Do?
Undercover journalism has a long history. Nellie Bly exposed the horrors of mental hospital institutions in the late 19th century by posing as an insane inmate in an asylum. Many local televisions stations use undercover reporters to expose corruption by government officials and others. This technique can be used as a tool to expose societal ills, but it should be used rarely and carefully. For instance, there was a chilling effect on this type of journalism after the Food Lion v. ABC case, which found ABC liable for trespass and breach of loyalty for having its producers lie on job applications to expose unhealthy practices.
Conservatives have used this technique as well. The most famous incident was when two conservative activists, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles posed as a pimp and a prostitute to entice ACORN employees to give them illegal tax advice for their made up business of smuggling young women into the United States to work as prostitutes. Their work was published by Breitbart and they became conservative icons to their supporters for exposing a liberal organization, but to their detractors, they brought down an important and valuable organization that engaged in community organizing and voter registration. In subsequent years, O’Keefe tried to engage in sting operations against the Washington Post, a George Soros backed group, CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau, and U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu.
A few years ago, two pro-life activists, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, released undercover videos accusing Planned Parenthood doctors of selling aborted fetal tissue. The heavily edited videos caused national outrage and led to threats against abortion providers. They filmed 14 people without their consent at meetings with women’s healthcare providers in four cities and published the videos on the website for the Center for Medical Progress. In 2017, they were charged with 15 felonies by California prosecutors.
These undercover sting videos are often cleverly edited in a deceptive manner and don’t show the entire context of what took place.
My own hunch is that people like to see undercover journalism, entertainment, and activism if it confirms their own beliefs and values and exposes others that they dislike or disagree with. They don’t like it and label it as “Gotcha” techniques if it exposes and embarrasses people and organizations that they like. One group’s muckraker or hero can be seen by others as a hack and a charlatan.
Liberals like me were critical of the ACORN sting and other similar deceptive incidents that attacked liberal institutions. While it’s tempting to revel in Sacha Baron Cohen’s exposure of the dark side of conservatives, we shouldn’t encourage the deceptive techniques that he used to get his information, results, and behavior. What goes around comes around. In the future, we’re likely to see more conservative citizen journalists/advocates/provocateurs like James O’Keefe who will set out to entrap and embarrass liberal democrats and organizations through deceptive measures. Will we embrace these undercover efforts as much as we do Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who is America? Probably not.
Larry Atkins is the author of Skewed: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Media Bias (Prometheus Books). He teaches Journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University. Twitter: @larryatkins4

6 thoughts on “Who is America and the Ethics of Going Undercover

  1. Using cruel and deceptive means to expose evil is needed only in most urgent situations when all other, respectable methods have failed. It is actually a form of torture, though usually limited to mental torture.
    Making entertainment out of it is pathetically sick, and proves, more than anything else it does, that critics of the evil of others are, themselves, quite capable of destructive and inhumane practices as well.
    Humiliation may expose someone’s evil doings, bur never can convince the shamed ones to change their attitudes or deeds.
    I think it is seriously poisonous to the minds of the exposers.

      • If a person is “dumb” , as you say, or, in other words, gullible or not sharp-witted and worldly, that doesn’t mean they deserve cruelty. And those who are entertained by deceptive shaming of others are lacking in moral fiber, and need to be healed of their own shortcomings and emotional illness.

  2. I never seem the show… nor care to see it based on the article. Actually never even heard of it.
    Is not the real question is , Why do people watch it?” I think this says more than the techniques used by the show .Schadenfeude

  3. “Thousands of candles can be lit from a solitary candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Contentment never decreases by becoming shared.” The BuddhaCandles are an age old traditional portion of Buddhist rituals. In conjunction with incense and flowers, they are placed in front of Buddhist shrines or statues and pictures of the Buddha as a mark of regard. They are frequently accompanied by choices of foodstuff and consume. The mild of the burning candle flame signifies the light-weight of the Buddha’s teachings. Candles and incense also evoke the condition of impermanence and change.Their light-weight can also be said to symbolize the enlightenment of the Buddha.Thailand Buddhist Candle Competition”Just as a candle are not able to burn off without having fire, men cannot stay without a religious existence.” The BuddhaBuddhist Lent Day in Thailand, an overwhelmingly Buddhist place is in July each and every calendar year and is primarily practiced by proven monks. The working day just before the commence of Lent, the Candle Competition is celebrated by Thai men and women. This Competition is celebrated correct throughout the region, but the most particularly celebrations just take spot in Ubon Rachathani north-eastern Thailand (Isaan).According to custom, Buddhist Lent Day began as a end result of villagers complaining to the Buddha. It is said that a group of ordained monks have been producing merit (tamboon) and experienced walked by way of moist rice fields. At this time the rice fields were at the peak of their expansion and by strolling in them they had ruined the crop. As a consequence the legend has it that the Buddha told all monks to exercise creating advantage even though only being inside the confines of their temples. Presently Buddhist Lent stipulates that all monks should remain confined to their temples for a period of time of three months in the course of the wet period, starting on the first day of the eighth waning moon.Thai individuals offer a selection of basic merchandise to their monks and this offering also contains candles and this of course contains the popular Candle Competition. In prior moments most temples had no electrical power and so candles had an important symbolic importance for ceremonies but also much more practically for illumination in day-to-day use. In addition they are stated to depict wisdom as divine light in the course of the Candle Competition the Buddhist laity apply their beliefs by providing big and typically extravagantly decorated candles to the monks.Candle Competition Celebrations: “There are two approaches of spreading light-weight: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Edith WhartonOn the working day prior to Lent, massive teams of men and women obtain with their superbly adorned candles and march with them on elaborate and gorgeous parades. The rich, luxuriously sculpted decorations on these beautiful performs of art portray willpower, unity, and the beliefs of that group. The candle parade procession includes the broadest cross part of the community all in their very best clothes. In Ubon Ratchathani this also contains a lot of groups of regional Isaan performers, musicians and dancers who accompany the candles as they make their way via the city. There is also a popular splendor contest to select Skip Candle (who is regarded as the most stunning lady of that neighborhood).All through the country, there are celebrations of the Candle Competition. Whatsoever the weather conditions in Thailand the individuals have entertaining and expressing their faith on July 8, the beginning of Buddhist lent.”How considerably that tiny candle throws its beams! So shines a great deed in a naughty planet.” William ShakespeareCandle MeditationSit a silent tranquil room and gentle a candle. It could be of any color but some favor a blue or a white one particular. Now stare deep into the burning flame of the candle and focus on it. Do not allow your vision of the candle flame turn into blurred. As you stare at the burning flame your mind will turn into loaded with the sound of daily contemplating, concerns and trivial concerns. These need to just commence to drift absent and soon after a limited although, you might get started to acquire pictures and thoughts that will not seem to come from you. Take these as your religious guides and try out to interpret them.Hold staring at the burning flame do not be distracted and attempt to interpret the visions you are receiving. 1 common example is that of ‘seeing’ a peeled onion. At very first this may seem senseless but in this case in point it could signify that as you journey more together on your life’s path, the layers are becoming peeled away permitting you to see and knowledge the supreme core of you existence.As you progress even more with your candle meditation try to discover to have faith in your own analysis and comprehending of these thoughts that the candle brings to your brain. This kind of meditation therefore functions as a strong way of concentrating your focus.Consider to create up your expertise of candle meditation from 5 minutes a day to 20 minutes and do this in excess of several months. Your eyes will require to adapt to the dim gentle and in excess of time, you will be capable distinguish amongst which views are your personal and which can act as your religious guides.”Better to light-weight a candle than curse the darkness” Chinese proverb”As a white candle in a holy place, So is the attractiveness of an aged experience” Joseph CampbellWhere is the World’s Most significant Candle?”We say God and the creativity are a single… How substantial that maximum candle lights the darkish.” Wallace StevensDigressing a bit from the use of Candles in Buddhism in my research I diverted to see what human creativeness could bring to the entire world of candles – this is what I discovered.”A very good instructor is like a candle – it consumes alone to gentle the way for other people.” AnonThere are several contenders and a long background of the research for the world’s greatest candle. The first contender for the world’s largest candle is the United states – the Warm Glow Candle Outlet in Centreville, Indiana the place they assert to have the world’s biggest candle. However At the Stockholm Exhibition of 1897 what has been explained as the world’s biggest candle on file went on exhibit. This massive candle is said to have been eighty ft higher and measuring eight and a fifty percent toes in diameter.The lengthy set up company of Ajello Candles is yet another contender for the historic title of the world’s greatest candle. In 1921 it developed the Enrico Caruso Memorial Candle.This candle calculated 5 feet in circumference and tapered at the leading to 18 inches. This candle stood an remarkable 18 feet tall and when the candle was burning the business claimed it could keep on for 1800 many years, burning 1 day every single yr on the anniversary of Enrico Caruso’s loss of life.In 2005 in Jerusalem they created the world’s biggest Hannukha candle. This huge candle was over 8 and a half metres in height and 85cm broad. It was found in the Pisga shopping mall in the city. These are just some illustrations of what claim to be or were the world’s biggest candles.”Nirvana is not the blowing out of the candle. It is the extinguishing of the candle’s flame because day is occur.” Rabindranath Tago

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