I recently read an interesting article about the politicians and public figures who were lining up to sue Sacha Baron Cohen, the chameleon-like satirist behind "Da Ali G Show," "Borat," "Bruno," and recently "Who is America?" Infamous political figures like Roy Moore, Sarah Palin and Dana Rohrbacher have either sued Cohen or have threatened to sue him as a result of pranks he has pulled on them (from getting them to play with sex toys to having them advocate for the arming of small children). As lawyers, we know that much of what Cohen does is protected by the First Amendment and that public figures have a higher bar than ordinary people in order to try to prove libel or slander. However, Cohen's real safeguard is that according to an article in the New York Timeshe gets his "victims" to sign releases – acknowledging that they are agreeing to appear by their own free will.
As anyone who has ever read a release for a reality TV show or one of the myriad of competition shows can tell you, these documents are as comprehensive and exhaustive and usually give the producers the unbridled right to ridicule the participants and to show them in any type of light they wish. These release documents exist in order to protect the producers and networks from liability; they are an important part of the production process, and they are generally always effective. Good filmmakers get releases from everybody and for everything. I am not sure what theory one can put forth to set aside a release, other than fraud.
I was in court once representing a defendant who had been sued by a former business associate despite the fact that they had earlier settled this dispute and executed a complete mutual release. The judge seemed to wonder why we were there and then dismissed the case saying "a release is a release is a release". I am not sure why politicians especially seem to get offended by satirical attacks after they have adopted polarizing opinions to try and get themselves elected. But given the President's recent attacks on the First Amendment and at least one Supreme Court justice's apparent belief that our libel laws are without history or legal precedent, this is something we need to watch very carefully. In the interim, always get a release!