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CULTURE

‘Evil’ Influence of Political Fixer Roy Cohn Portrayed in New Documentary

Roy Cohn was "a master manipulator that taught politicians, demagogues, and bad guys how to behave—and that means misbehave.” (Photo: YouTube screenshot)
Roy Cohn was "a master manipulator that taught politicians, demagogues, and bad guys how to behave—and that means misbehave.” (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

Roy Cohn was “a master manipulator that taught politicians, demagogues, and bad guys how to behave—and that means misbehave.”

A new documentary explores the life and career of “evil” lawyer and political power broker Roy Cohn, best known for being Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel, the lawyer of then-real estate tycoon Donald Trump, and being a top political fixer. The film declares that his influence can be seen today in our current political climate, through his mentorship with Trump decades ago.

Directed by Matt Tyrnauer, an accomplished documentarian and editor-at-large for Vanity Fair magazine, Where’s My Roy Cohn? features appearances by Roy Cohn himself, alongside Roger Stone, Donald Trump, and Barbara Walters among others.

Considered “one of the most controversial and influential American men of the 20th Century”, Cohn was born and raised in New York City to a Jewish family. He passed away in 1986 at the age of 59 from AIDS-related complications. Although he never confirmed his homosexuality, it was evident to many of his colleagues. Interestingly, he participated with Senator McCarthy in the firing of scores of gay men from government employment during the “Lavendar Scare” of the 1950s.

This is just one of many examples that solidified Cohn’s legacy of “evil”, politically and socially, during his 28-year career. Others include: unethically influencing a judge to send convicted Soviet Union spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair; collaborating with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt; orchestrating the New York State primary to split the vote to help Ronald Reagan win the presidency; inciting damaging stories about Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 to upend her historic bid for Vice Presidency; abusing the law to help keep murderous members of the mafia out of prison; and plundering the bank accounts of his legal clients.

With his natural charisma and ruthless approach in court, Cohn was highly sought after by several factions of Manhattan’s elite, including celebrities, socialites, politicians and crime lords.

Sony Pictures Studios, which is releasing the film, directly states that Cohn’s professional strategy influenced his famous protege that eventually became the leader of the free world: “always attack; never admit blame or apologize; expertly manipulate the media to gain advantage and destroy your opponents; lie shamelessly”, it says.

Could Cohn’s influence be felt forty years after he mentored Trump?

Director Tyrnauer asserts that Cohn was “a master manipulator that taught politicians, demagogues, and bad guys how to behave—and that means misbehave.”

Cohn represented Trump in the early 1970s when Trump was pursuing large construction projects. Cohn helped counter several charges against Trump, such as violating the Fair Housing Act. Tyrnauer believes that Trump learned how to keep authorities off his track while engaging in shady business dealings and how to manipulate the media amidst controversy, from Cohn.

Although the new film does not aim to explicitly focus on Cohn’s relationship with Trump, it’s a key point of relevance for today’s audience.

Where’s My Roy Cohn? premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and opened in wide release to theaters on September 20.

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