Letter to the editor: Theatre controversy has no political significance

“Hamilton: An American Musical” has quickly became one of Broadway’s most popular shows since it release. 

In a 48-hour window that featured President-elect Donald Trump’s nominations of an attorney general and national security advisor, Trump’s resolution of a federal class-action lawsuit on Trump University and a gathering by members of the alt-right community blocks from the White House, the main story on New York Times’ homepage Saturday afternoon pertained to a Twitter controversy involving a famed Broadway musical.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended “Hamilton: An American Musical” Friday evening, inciting a viral tweet storm about Pence’s appearance at a musical starring a gay, HIV positive male and one of the most diverse casts in Broadway history. Upon the show’s conclusion, a video by one of the show’s stars Brandon Dixon asked Pence to work on behalf of all peoples, no matter their background, went viral.

The following morning, Trump fired off multiple tweets pertaining to what he called “harassment,” by the “Hamilton” cast.

The “Hamilton” controversy became front-page news, over-shadowing various stories that will have actual political significance. The over-sensationalized coverage of trivial topics was common throughout Trump’s campaign, and in the wake of his election, has maintained its prominence. The onus is on the media to avoid over-sensationalizing stories that have little political significance and instead focus on stories that will have concrete political ramifications.

During the first half of “Hamilton” Friday night, the video of Vice President- elect Pence getting booed upon his arrival went viral on Twitter. And as the night progressed, the conversation focused less on his physical arrival at the production and more on comments related to the show in relation to Pence’s political views.

Twitter took a political figure’s appearance at a Broadway musical, and turned it into a major news story.

That, according to Ron Elving, a senior editor for NPR, has been commonplace over the past few months.

“Anything that is new—happening on live TV right now and flooding your Twitter feed—is indisputably powerful,” Elving wrote in mid-August. “And that is the kind of new thing that is more likely to dominate the news.”

Trump’s campaign incited a flurry of Twitter controversies, and the President-elect benefitted greatly from them.

“He favored courting controversy through provocative pronouncements, attributed comments, distorted facts and an off-the-cuff (“politically incorrect”) speaking style,” Chris Wells et al., an associate professor at UW-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, wrote in a recent journal article.

This style, according to Wells, marked a substantial change from prior politicians as the “blue-collar billionaire” utilized a style that was rare in modern politics, yet appealed to disaffected voters.

By courting controversy and throwing more fuel into the fire, media outlets frequently distorted the facts and emphasized provocative pronouncements more than substantive issues.

The recent controversy pertaining to the famed musical is merely the most recent example of the media emphasizing Trump’s more provocative comments over actual decisions.

Trump’s decision to nominate Jeff Sessions as Attorney General will undoubtedly impact the United States more than a petty tweet storm about Vice-President-elect Pence attending a musical, but the media’s decision to focus on the latter and not the former is a troublesome sign of what is to come.

“The media is not ready to cover this president,” The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer wrote in a recent story titled “The U.S. Media is Completely Unprepared to Cover a Trump Presidency.” “Now they will have the entire apparatus of the federal government to bolster their lies, and the mainstream media is woefully unprepared to cover them.”

The recent Hamilton controversy is of course not a complete lie, and its response by Trump is not a definitive attempt to “bolster their lies,” but the way that it was covered has an equally detrimental effect.

It veils stories that have far greater ratifications. It covers un-truths that should be called to light.

News organizations lurched from controversy to controversy during the campaign season, and in the wake of Trump’s election, journalists must decide whether to continue to sensationalize stories of little actual significance or identify what is actually occurring in the new Trump administration.

To quote the musical that incited the most recent Trump controversy, attention media, “do not throw away your shot.”

Ben is a sophomore majoring in journalism and history. Are you a “Hamilton” fan? Do you think that media outlets need to do a better job of providing consumers more politically relevant information? Please send all comments, questions and concerns to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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