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No, Seriously, What Is Going On At Columbus Underground?

I feel like I could ask this question every day lately, but stick with me while I walk you through this specific incident.

On January 4th, Columbus Underground ran an interview with Robert Cooperman, who founded Stage Right Theatrics. Cooperman bills this as “the country’s only conservative theater company.”

CU allowed its readers to be manipulated in several ways here:

1. This is a poorly labeled ad.

Businesses have to pay bills. We all know that. It’s 2018 and at this very late date I think most readers of online publications are understanding. But there are ethical considerations.

From the bottom of the “interview” (we’ll get to the word interview in a moment):

Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art and sharing information about exhibitions, performances, concerts and more at ColumbusMakesArt.com. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.

We can leave the topic of whether or not this satisfies FTC requirements on native advertising, but it is problematic that Columbus Underground is running the link to “Greater Columbus Arts Council” through an ad server, which produces this for anyone running a browser with an ad blocker enabled:

If an ad blocker kills your disclosure (such as it is) then it for sure doesn’t satisfy FTC requirements or shed much light on this being a paid ad. Why are they running a text link through an ad server?

via GIPHY

2. Cooperman is interviewing himself.

This isn’t disclosed. The reader who skims this (i.e. the vast majority of people who are reading things on the internet) would be forgiven for thinking Columbus Underground was interviewing him, given the interview follows the same format as other CU interviews. This is a problem because Cooperman says several questionable things that go unquestioned because he’s talking to himself.

An example? Sure:

Stage Right: While we’re at it, what exactly is conservative theater?
Robert: It’s theater that promotes and celebrates the traditional values that have sustained our country for more than 200 years. It’s the idea that conservative solutions to our cultural divides are as valid and stage-worthy as progressive solutions (which, as history has shown, don’t work very well). It’s the notion that there is such a thing as human nature and that we should be humbled by forces greater than ourselves. It’s the belief that our Constitution and religions are the key to support human dignity and lay the groundwork for individual freedoms. It is, ultimately, a celebration of individualism untethered to big government and identity politics.

INTERVIEWER (haha jk this is also Robert): TELL ME, SIR … DOES IT EVER GET TIRING BRINGING THE TRUTH TO THE UNWASHED MASSES?
ROBERT: WELL, LET ME TELL YOU (hundreds of words about the evils of liberalism)

Did Columbus Underground push back on this at all? More mysteries.

via GIPHY

If you want to see contempt for an audience, well. This is it.

What is Columbus Underground promoting here?

The first play Cooperman will be staging is one that exists to excuse criticism of police shootings.

Stage Right Theatrics has a trademarked (!?!) slogan that reads “Disagreement does not equal hate!”:

But their first effort will be to provide a safe space for people who want to believe police are infallible. I don’t know if that’s hate, but it’s questionable in a city that has felt like it’s at a tipping point for years when it comes to police violence.

At the least, it’s disappointing that the best a conservative production company can do is perform a hot take from 2015 with commentary that wouldn’t feel out of place coming from your racist uncle at Thanksgiving. (I’ve got no problem with right wingers wanting to put on a play, but like any theatre company – be interesting.)

Columbus Underground could have run this as a legitimate interview, giving appropriate publicity for the ad buy (probably with increased visibility since an interview challenging Cooperman would have been passed around.) But they didn’t, and I’m not sure why. (imagine that Unsolved Mysteries theme music right here.)

And hey, Robert Cooperman? If you want to be interviewed for real hit us up.

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