Columns, Opinion

BERMAN: “Hamilton” incident proves sensationalism is alive and well

A little over a week ago, my Facebook feed was filled to the brim with posts about Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s viewing of the Broadway show “Hamilton: An American Musical” and the ensuing Donald Trump Twitterstorm. The “mainstream media,” aka CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other similar sources, gobbled up Trump’s tantrum. Whole articles and op-eds were devoted to the subject of the incident for days to come.

The opinion piece in the Post titled, “At ‘Hamilton,’ Pence meets old-time rowdy, activist theater” is a prime example of mainstream media’s sensationalist tendencies. The op-ed, by a Fulbright scholar, details the history of theater “where Americans debate politics.” The article is well-written and interesting in the context of “Hamilton-gate,” but is completely unnecessary.

Hamilton-gate is normal in relation to the plethora of other “scandals” of this much-too-long election season. The future vice president went to see the extremely popular musical “Hamilton.” At the end of the musical, the diverse cast, based on race, gender and sexual orientation, led by the actor playing Aaron Burr, directly said to Pence that they hope his administration defends the rights of all minorities. Trump erupted on Twitter calling the cast “very rude,” and said “I hear” the show is “overrated.” The mainstream media then put out story after story regarding the incident while Pence later said that he was not offended.

The relationship between the press and Trump is quite simple. Trump is the tantrum-prone child with anger issues. The press is the modern-day parent who constantly posts about his or her children on Facebook. So yes, a social media-obsessed parent is acting as “the arbiter of truth” while a toddler who throws tantrums is our future president. I cannot say the future looks bright.

Many will claim that the media took the side of the “Hamilton” cast, exposing their supposed liberal bias. What actually happened was, the media talked about what people wanted to hear: the latest Trump v. ____ battle. That is not the job of the media. However, that is the role the media has played in its semi-implicit obsession with likes, retweets, comments and shares.

Jon Stewart pointed this out five years ago in an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace.

“Their bias is towards sensationalism and laziness. I wouldn’t say it’s towards a liberal agenda. It’s light fluff so it’s absolutely within the wheelhouse,” Stewart said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If your suggestion is that they’re restlessly partisan, then why haven’t they gone and backed away from [Rep. Anthony] Weiner? They jumped into the Weiner pool with such delight and such relish.”

Of course, this is a generalist statement, as is my article. It would be impossible to say all of the media is sensationalist. However, there is no doubt that media in general loves a fake issue to cover. How else is CNN going to fill its 24 hours of news coverage?

Just on Sunday, President-elect Trump tweeted, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

While the media rightfully pounced on the fact that there is no evidence to back Trump’s claim, it should not fall into the trap of losing focus on the plethora of transition issues Trump has.

There are controversies surrounding the future secretary of state appointment, Trump’s domestic and foreign assets, the influence of his children and son-in-law and the appointments of Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions.

Trump has figured out the media’s game. He clogs up the news cycle with a somewhat or not-at-all important issue to distract from his many issues and faults. Trump knows he isn’t going to lose popularity because of his latest tweet. The media just hasn’t caught on yet.

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