By now, you have likely heard about the scene in the intermittently amusing new Borat movie, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, in which Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and the personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, is caught in what The Guardian has described as a "compromising scene" with a young woman posing as a journalist in a hotel room.
Here's how The Guardian, which first reported the scene, described it: "In the film, released on Friday, the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat's daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist."
The scene doesn't exactly look great for Giuliani, but if that's all you've heard, it's probably not what you think.
The bit, which serves as the movie's finale, starts with Giuliani sitting down for an interview in a hotel suite, a fairly common location for videotaped interviews of well-known figures. He thinks he's talking to a foreign journalist. But in fact, he's talking to the actress who plays Borat's 15-year-old daughter (the actress is actually 24) who has disguised herself in order to interview someone close to the president for plot reasons that aren't particularly important.
As the interview begins, she butters him up, describing how thrilled she is to be talking to him. The interview is obsequious in tone, and when COVID-19 comes up, the former mayor makes the striking claim that "China manufactured the virus" and "deliberately spread" it around the world.
As the conversation, which has obviously been heavily edited, proceeds, the pair appear to be flirting with each other, or at least acting quite friendly. But this might be because she's acting somewhat anxious about the interview, and he's trying to reassure her; at one point he tells her, "you're doing very well." At this point, Borat, played by Sasha Baron Cohen but disguised as a sound tech for the interview, comes in to interrupt the proceedings. As she apologizes for the interruption, she puts her hand on his knee.
Eventually, the interview is over. This is where things take a turn: She invites him to "have a drink in the bedroom." Drink in hand, he follows her in. There is some close bodily contact, and it almost looks like he might be unzipping her dress. But if you look closely, you can see that he is removing her microphone. For those who have never worn a lavalier mic for a TV interview, they can be wired up around you in ways that are slightly awkward to put on or take off. Often, news networks have crew members assist with the mic process, which involves close personal contact.
After he removes her mic, he sits on the bed, and you can hear him say "you can give me your phone number and your address." It's meant to sound like a proposition of some sort, but again, it's not that unusual for a journalist (which she wasn't, but which Giuliani believed her to be) to want to give contact information to a high profile source.
She then removes his microphone—again, shot in a way to emphasize the intimacy of their contact—and in the process, the front of his shirt comes untucked. At this point, he leans back, appearing to briefly lie on the bed, and reaches a hand into his pants. But it's fairly clear he's tucking his shirt back in—which is what Giuliani himself says was happening.
Was there something salacious about the interaction? Quite possibly: I can't say what Giuliani was thinking when he followed a younger, flirtatious woman into a hotel suite bedroom with a drink in his hand, but it's not too difficult to imagine what he might have been expecting, or hoping for. And the whole thing is so heavily edited that it's hard to say precisely what went on.
But the pivotal detail from The Guardian story—that he was caught "reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals" looks wildly misleading. Yes, he reached into his trousers, but as heavily edited as the tape is, it's pretty clear that he was tucking in his shirt, not pulling a Toobin.
And what if expected that eventually his pants would come off? He's a divorced adult man, and the (fake) journalist he was with gave every sign of being interested in him. Notably, she invited him into the bedroom, not the other way around. Is that "compromising"?
For my money, the more damning bit comes earlier, when he flatly and without any caveats claims that COVID-19 was a Chinese bioweapon created intentionally to wreak havoc on the rest of the world. Some people have speculated that the disease came from a Chinese lab, but the best evidence strongly suggests otherwise, and there's nothing to indicate that it was an intentional Chinese plot to sicken the world. It's worrying that someone who believes in that sort of conspiracy theory is a close personal adviser to the president, and that he would be attempting to spread that theory in what he thought was an on-camera interview.
It's more than a little ironic that the big story to come out of that scene was fake news about a presidential lawyer—when the real story is that a presidential lawyer was trying to spread fake news.