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BOOK REVIEW: United States of Distraction

Media Manipulation in Post-Truth America (And What We Can Do About It), by Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff

This book is an essential read for those who are confused by Trump’s rise to political power and by the complacency of many in the nation even when confronted with his bad behavior and policies. The authors of United States of Distraction help us understand why so many people are taking up arms and spreading the rhetoric of this master manipulator. By examining the messaging and programming that led Trump’s followers to support him so reverently, Dr. Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff take the reader on a journey to explore the causes and effects of sensationalistic journalism and its role in the current climate of our country.

Both Higdon and Huff are from the San Francisco Bay Area. Higdon lectures in history and media studies at California State University and is on the board of the Media Freedom Foundation. Huff is co-chair of the history department at Diablo Valley College and is a lecturer in communications at California State University. Among other roles, he serves as director of Project Censored, an American media watchdog organization that encourages students to see the importance of a truly free press.

Starting with the founding doctrines of our nation, the authors take the reader up to the Trump Era. This unfettered timeline springs from journalism within the free press, through the corporate takeover of the media and on to the digital age. The authors paint a clear picture by understanding the forces behind  media outlets and the money fueling them, coupled with the corporate manipulation of the American education system. This context helps provide understanding of those hoodwinked by a polished celebrity in the “post-truth era”.

After the dismantling of the social protections in the 1934 Communications Act and the 1949 Fairness Doctrine, the media was primed to receive this showman candidate. Corporate America pounced on the opportunities abounding from the waning attention span of the digitally immersed populous. This book explores how corporate-owned media profited from Trump’s “audience-amassing power” and in return gave him an ever-growing platform to market himself.

The polarization of America was influenced by the introduction of “alternative facts” and catch phrases like “fake news” and the detrimental labeling of those who questioned him as “un-American” and “treasonous.” Following polarization, the subversion of the mainstream media in favor of Twitter and Breitbart further contributed to Trump’s platform. Trump’s ability to share his messages directly to his followers partially enabled his misdirection of the masses and obfuscation of the ongoing theft of civil protections.

For those who are struggling to understand why friends or family members have ardently supported his rhetoric in blindly combative ways, this book provides a cathartic opportunity to reevaluate the process of their indoctrination and possibly provide a path to healing.

United States of Distraction flows in an easy-to-read, hard-to-put-down manner, with intellectual nuggets dispersed throughout. As they close, the authors leave the reader with a guide for free resources in areas including critical media literacy and civic engagement. Overall, a timely and insightful read.

Ilana Smith submitted this review as part of WIP’s new grant for reviews of selected books. See the instructions on Page 2.

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