United States of Distraction: Media Manipulation in Post-Truth America (and What We Can Do about It)
A powerful critique of how manipulation of media gives rise to disinformation, intolerance, and divisiveness, and what can be done to change direction.
"Mickey Huff and Nolan Higdon emphasize what we can do today to restore the power of facts, truth, and fair, inclusive journalism as tools for people to keep political and corporate power subordinate to the engaged citizenry and the common good."--Ralph Nader
The role of news media in a free society is to investigate, inform, and provide a crucial check on political power. But does it?
It's no secret that the goal of corporate-owned media is to increase the profits of the few, not to empower the many. As a result, people are increasingly immersed in an information system structured to reinforce their social biases and market to their buying preferences. Journalism's essential role has been drastically compromised, and Donald Trump's repeated claims of "fake news" and framing of the media as "an enemy of the people" have made a bad scenario worse.
Written in the spirit of resistance and hope, United States of Distraction offers a clear, concise appraisal of our current situation, and presents readers with action items for how to improve it.
Praise for United States of Distraction
"A war of distraction is underway, media is the weapon, and our minds are the battlefield. Higdon and Huff have written a brilliant book of how we've gotten to this point, and how to educate ourselves to fight back and win."--Henry A. Giroux, author of American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism
"A timely and urgent demand re-asserting the central importance of civic pursuits--not commercialism--in U.S. media and society."--Ralph Nader
"Higdon and Huff have produced the best short introduction to the nature of Trump-era journalism and how the 'Post-Truth' media world is inimical to a democratic society that I have seen. The book is provocative and an entertaining read. Best of all, the analysis in United States of Distraction leads to concrete and do-able recommendations for how we can rectify this deplorable situation."--Robert W. McChesney, author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times
"The U.S. wouldn't be able to hide its empire in plain sight were it not for the subservient 'free' press. United States of Distraction shows, in chilling detail, America's major media dysfunction--how the gutting of the fourth estate paved the road for fascism and what tools are critical to salvage our democracy."--Abby Martin, The Empire Files
"Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff provides us with a fearless and dangerous text that refuses the post-truth proliferation of fake news, disinformation, and media that serve the interests of the few. This is a vital wake-up call for how the public can protect itself against manipulation and authoritarianism through education and public interest media."--George Yancy, author of Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly about Racism in America and Professor of Philosophy at Emory University
"United States of Distraction challenges our hegemon-media's ideological mind control and the occupation of human thought. ... Huff and Higdon correctly call for mass critical resistance through truth telling by free minds. Power to the people!"--Peter Phillips, author of Giants: The Global Power Elite
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About the Author
Dr. Nolan Higdon is professor of History and Communication at California State University, East Bay. His academic work primarily focuses on news media, propaganda, critical media literacy, and social justice pedagogies. He has been a guest commentator for news media outlets such as The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox. He is a board member for the Media Freedom Foundation, frequent contributor to Project Censored's annual Censored books series, a co-founder of the Global Critical Media Literacy Project, a program advisor for Sacred Heart University Media Literacy and Digital Culture Graduate Program, a steering committee member for the Union for Democratic Communications, and co-host of the Project Censored radio show.
Mickey Huff is director of Project Censored and the president of the Media Freedom Foundation. He has edited or coedited ten volumes of in the Censored book series and contributed numerous chapters to these annuals since 2008. He has also co-authored essays on media and propaganda for other scholarly publications. He is professor of social science and history at Diablo Valley College, where he co-chairs the History Department; he is also a lecturer in the Communications Department at California State University, East Bay, and has taught Sociology of Media at Sonoma State University. Huff is executive producer and cohost of The Project Censored Show, the weekly syndicated program that originates from KPFA in Berkeley. He is a cofounding member of the Global Critical Media Literacy Project (gcml.org), sits on the advisory board for the Media Literacy and Digital Culture graduate program at Sacred Heart University, and serves on the editorial board for the journal Secrecy and Society. Huff works with the national outreach committee of Banned Books Week, the American Library Association, and the National Coalition Against Censorship, of which Project Censored is a member. He is the critical media literacy consultant for the educational Internet startup, Tribeworthy.com, He regularly gives interviews on critical media literacy, propaganda, censorship issues, and contemporary historiography. He is a musician and composer and lives with his family in Northern California.
"There are lots of wonderful books to read this month, but the one I will pick up because it may contain some glimmer of sanity in it is United States of Distraction, Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff's aptly titled analysis of why we have descended into information anarchy. How this state of crisis--about what is and isn't true, and how that gets played--has perpetuated the very things worth fighting against. They promise ideas and solutions, God I hope they're good."--John Freeman, Literary Hub
"[Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff] paint a dismal picture of contemporary journalism, arguing persuasively that the media has been co-opted by commercial interests and no longer serve to inform the public about issues crucial to democracy. . . . the authors call for 'critical media literacy education' that emphasizes civics, critical thinking skills, critical awareness of media, community engagement, and cultural competency (including the cultivation of empathy) as well as a broadening and deepening of news reporting."--Kirkus Reviews
"In [United States of Distraction], the authors give the reader a road map of ways to counteract the negative effects of today's media--including an extensive appendix of resources. ... By following Higdon and Huff's prescription, it is possible that these bulwarks can be strengthened. They specifically recommend broader news framing, locally based investigative journalism, and educational news to 'arm the population with the necessary forms of civic agency and self-defense to continue to maintain public sovereignty.'"--The Progressive
"Mickey Huff and Nolan Higdon and have long understood that the truth is a powerful weapon for making power accountable. They also understand that authoritarians, corporate CEOs, and other anti-democratic forces often view truth as unprofitable or dangerous. In their superb book, United States of Distraction, they echo Hannah Arendt's warning that during authoritarian times, critical thinking, truth-telling, and investigative journalism can be a high-risk activities. Higdon and Huff not only look at how corporate influence has comprised media and undermined democracy, but also how such influence has rendered society vulnerable to manipulation through disinformation, propaganda, and hyper-partisan divisiveness. A war of distraction is underway, media is the weapon, and our minds are the battlefield. Higdon and Huff have written a brilliant book of how we've gotten to this point, and how to educate ourselves to fight back and win."--Henry A. Giroux, author of American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism
"This vibrant and important book shows how propaganda and lies are flowing through corporate-controlled media, dividing and ruling. Mickey Huff and Nolan Higdon emphasize what we can do today to restore the power of facts, truth, and fair, inclusive journalism as tools for people to keep political and corporate power subordinate to the engaged citizenry and the common good. A timely and urgent demand re-asserting the central importance of civic pursuits--not commercialism--in U.S. media and society."--Ralph Nader
"United States of Distraction by Mickey Huff and Nolan Higdon challenges our hegemon-media's ideological mind control and the occupation of human thought. Their message is clear that we are in an era of deliberate propaganda and lies that protect concentrated global capital. Corporate media incites confusion and distraction to insure ideological domination by the global power elite. Huff and Higdon correctly call for mass critical resistance through truth telling by free minds. Power to the people!"--Peter Phillips, author of Giants: The Global Power Elite
"Historians Mickey Huff and Nolan Higdon bring context to our current Trumpian post-truth moment. They retrace the largely untold history of the roots of neoliberalism and show the devastating effects of a half century of privatization, deregulation, and the all-out war on the New Deal and Great Society. They not only deconstruct and explain how we got to this moment in history, they prescribe ways we can wrestcontrol from a plutocracy that has co-opted the best elements of American idealism, cynically turning them on their head for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. This book is a call to action at a moment when not heeding history's warnings, and not dramatically changing course, threatens not only the future of our republic but of global civilization itself."--Peter Kuznick, professor of history at American University, author (with Oliver Stone) of The Untold History of the United States
"A thorough autopsy of our dying democracy in the Trump era. They chronicle the culmination of a long history of manufactured consent where American citizens have accepted a 'trickle down' taste of market benefits in exchange for the relentless privatization of news and information necessary for the healthy functioning of a free society. Huff and Higdon open our eyes to an Orwellian landscape where once commercial free, publicly owned discourses on equality, community, and justice have been substituted by propaganda and where the responsibility of informed citizenship has been replaced by blind allegiance to a supremely inept leader and a his merry band of corrupt plutocrats."--Nicholas L. Baham III, professor of African American Studies, Genders and Sexualities in Communities of Color, California State University East Bay
"Those who are concerned with the current state of democracy and want insight on how to make change are highly encouraged to read this book, which, while it shares disturbing information, is not despondent. Higdon and Huff believe that the people, armed with accurate information, can make change. With attention to education and critical media literacy, this book will serve as a catalyst for that change and will support those first steps away from the precipice of corporate control."--Allison Butler, Director of Media Literacy Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Co-President of the Action Coalition for Media Education
"Here is a book that cuts through the clutter of media nonsense to tell us some powerful truths. How they do it in a way that makes us angry while also inspired, is what makes the book so vibrant, and vital."--Robin Andersen, editor of The Routledge Companion to Media and Humanitarian Action and Professor of Media Studies at Fordham University
"United States of Distractionis a challenging, inspiring, and indispensable guide to this fateful era of fake news and 'alternative' facts. From the normalization of official lying and disinformation under the Trump administration to the deep historical roots of the corporate ethos that legitimizes restless pursuit of private enrichment at the expense of public goods, Higdon and Huff lucidly analyze the conditions and consequences of our current political crisis. Fortunately, they make equally clear how two fundamental democratic institutions--public education and a truly free press--may still save us, by rejuvenating our civics education, our communities, and our power as citizens."--Andy Lee Roth, associate director of Project Censored, co-editor of Censored 2020: Through the Looking Glass
"United States of Distraction is a huge wake-up call to anyone concerned that President Trump repeatedly calls coverage he disagrees with 'fake news.' The problem isn't fake news: the problem is that the teaching of both critical thinking and media literacy have been neglected far too long in American schools. ... If you're not outraged after reading United States of Distraction, you're not paying attention."--Frank W. Baker, author, consultant, Media Literacy Clearinghouse
"United States of Distraction brilliantly diagnoses the root causes of our current political and cultural malaise--the economic destruction of our free press, the rampant disregard for truth and accuracy in our political discourse, the corporate capture of our education system, and a public culture polluted by hyper-commerical entertainment. But even more importantly, the book explains how critical media literacy and a renewed emphasis on civics education can remedy the problems plaguing our politics and our culture and help us to revitalize and reclaim our democracy. An important and timely read."--Steve Macek, author of Urban Nightmares: The Media, The Right, and the Moral Panic Over the City
"At a time when many Americans are suffering from the cognitive dissonance resulting from Trump's horror show, United States of Distraction, by professors Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff, is a welcome guide, not only to the what, the how, and--above all, to the why--of how it all happened, but also offers a road to recovery."--Indybay