NBC's Today presents Sasha Baron Cohen's fake dictator minutes after reporting on bloodshed in Syria
I know Sasha Baron Cohen wants people like me to be offended.
Like any proper satirist, he crafts his bizarre characters with the specific goal of jabbing his audience at their most tender sensibilities, using absurdity and outrage to fuel his provocative comedy.
So I'm not surprised he was willing to appear on national television Friday morning as Admiral General Alladeen, his character from the upcoming movie, The Dictator. What amazed me, was that NBC's Today show allowed him to do it.
"I delayed 30 executions to do this," Cohen said in a telephone interview, adopting the thick accent of a Middle Eastern man. "By the way, how is your eunuch, Al Roker?"
I was surprised by Cohen's appearance because news outlets this week have been filled with emotional, jarring accounts of how Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is brutally repressing attempts at revolution in his country, mercilessly shelling civilian residences where rebels may be hiding and closing the country to the international press in an attempt to hide the carnage.
Two journalists were killed days ago trying to cover the conflict, including well-respected American journalist Marie Colvin. The Washington Post has a terrific piece on the hazards network TV news outlets are facing in covering the conflict there; New York Times media critic David Carr also has a poignant online column on the hazards faced by journalists struggling to get out information on the death and destruction.
So it was odd to see NBC correspondent Richard Engel file a brief report from the Syrian border this morning, not long before Cohen appeared to hype the manufactured controversy over his conveniently-leaked plans to attend the Oscars as his Dictator character.
Nevermind that CNN carried stories yesterday about doctors saying they faced death if caught treating suspected rebels in Syria (The CBS Evening News today showed an entire family rebels say were shot to death by the Syrian army).
Let's all have a good laugh watching Cohen riff on the Oscar Academy's reluctance to let him from hijack their event by attending in costume (MTV says the Academy has relented and will let him attend in costume).
I'm sure some people will say I need to lighten up or get the joke But after watching news reports on the carnage in Syria for days, forgive me if I don't feel like laughing.